Jubilee Party and National Super Alliance (Nasa) principals are facing a big nightmare as political parties prepare to submit their nomination rules to the electoral commission starting on Monday, kick-starting what could be a charged period ahead of the August elections.
Within Nasa, which largely brings together the four main opposition parties – ODM, Amani National Congress (ANC), Wiper and Ford Kenya – confusion surrounds the upcoming primaries as the principals ponder whether to hold joint nominations or allow individual parties to conduct their primaries and field separate candidates during the General Election. This comes even before the opposition has settled on a presidential candidate.
Jubilee, on the other hand, has been forced back to the drawing board after the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) remained non-committal on conducting the ruling party’s primaries.
The involvement of IEBC is largely considered a guarantee of credible nominations to avoid a fallout.
Indeed, the nomination headache has sent alarm bells ringing within Nasa, with fears that competition against each other for elective seats other than the presidency may lead to “cannibalism” and even divisions, in the process weakening their resolve to have a majority in Parliament were they to win the State House race.
What appears to have been agreed on within Nasa is that it will field a single presidential candidate – to be chosen from among Mr Raila Odinga (ODM), Mr Musalia Mudavadi (ANC), Mr Kalonzo Musyoka (Wiper) and Mr Moses Wetang’ula (Ford Kenya).
In Jubilee, suspicions over the party ticket have led to defections in its strongholds to smaller “friendly” parties.
Tharaka-Nithi Governor Samuel Ragwa, for instance, moved to Narc-Kenya on Friday claiming there is no guarantee that the nominations will be free and fair.
The party has lost a number of aspirants especially to Machakos Governor Alfred Mutua’s Maendeleo Chap Chap party which has declared its support for President Uhuru Kenyatta’s re-election.
Wiper Deputy party leader and former Deputy Speaker Farah Maalim admits that Nasa has not solved the nominations nightmare ahead of the requirement to start submitting rules to IEBC on Monday.
“It is something for which nobody has an answer. It is a very hot issue. We are, however, alive to the danger of playing into the hands of our opponents if all the parties under Nasa were to have candidates,” he said.
Kakamega Governor Wycliffe Oparanya, who is the ODM deputy party leader, wants Nasa to conduct joint primaries to reduce internal competition.
It is a complex arithmetic for the alliance which is also toying with a controversial option of zoning the country on the basis of affiliate party strongholds.
But Mr Wetang’ula, who is backing his party’s deputy leader Boni Khalwale for the Kakamega gubernatorial seat against the incumbent, wants each Nasa affiliate party to hold their primaries.
The Oparanya-Khalwale contest, two heavyweights in their respective parties, is expected to test the opposition unity.
The window allowed by the IEBC for political parties to file their nomination rules closes after 10 days from Monday.
Another landmark timeline related to this is the period within which aspirants are allowed to switch parties. After receiving the party membership lists on March 19, the IEBC will not allow anybody to decamp. This explains the alignments and re-alignments being witnessed.
Lugari MP Ayub Savula (ANC) says no agreement has been reached on whether the parties under Nasa ought to field joint candidates or whether individual parties field their respective candidates for all positions save for the Presidency.
“So far, the understanding is that parties will sponsor candidates for all the other seats except for presidency in which we will be supporting one candidate,” he said.
President Kenyatta and his Deputy William Ruto have been pleading with Jubilee members not to bolt out of the party, with reassurances of free and fair nominations. But not everyone is heeding the call.
Nominations have, over the years, been the political parties’ biggest headache. Ahead of the 2013 elections, for example, ODM’s chaotic primaries led to a series of defections in its strongholds.
Interviews with several opposition officials indicated that each Nasa affiliate is currently working on its own nomination programme and rules, even as they wait for a decision on the possibility of joint primaries.
And following uncertainty on whether IEBC will preside over its nominations, the ruling party is said to be working on an alternative system that would help it pick candidates in a competitive process.
On Friday, the Jubilee secretariat met IEBC officials led by Chairman Wafula Chebukati and it was agreed the two sides would engage on the issue.
“Jubilee Party and IEBC have formed a six-member team to discuss modalities of the commission holding the party nominations,” the head of Jubilee Secretariat, Mr Raphael Tuju, said.
Senate Majority Leader Kithure Kindiki, an ally of President Kenyatta’s, indicates that if push comes to shove, Jubilee will carry out sound nominations.
“In reaching out to IEBC, we are not saying we lack the capacity. We wanted to make the exercise more professional by detaching political players as much as possible but, for good reasons, IEBC may say they are not doing it in which case we will still go ahead. I assure you we would do it better than our competitors,” he said.
Within Nasa, initial reports had indicated that ODM could delay preparations for its nominations as it awaited the go-ahead from its principals but the chairperson of the party’s elections board, Judy Pareno, clarified that things were on course.
“We are starting the nominations next Tuesday (February 28) and these will run until April 20,” she said.
On Thursday, chairman of Wiper elections board Hassan Sheikh Ali issued a notice extending the deadline for aspirants to hand in applications for nomination to March 1, hinting that Nasa affiliated parties will not be jointly fielding candidates during the August 8 polls.
Meru Senator Kiraitu Murungi, a senior figure within Jubilee, downplayed the defections which have rocked the party in recent weeks.
“Politics is very local and personal and those making personal choices after doing their analysis and, as a democrat, I can’t blame them,” he said.
He, however, accused those jumping ship of not giving the party a chance to conduct satisfactory primaries.
“Our attempts to consolidate parliamentary democracy in Kenya by reducing multiplication of parties which have no ideological difference may be going down the drain. This big agenda is being sabotaged by individuals who are narrowly focused on their personal political survival. I would like to appeal to colleagues in Jubilee not to run away but to wait and see how the nomination system is organised. It is premature for them to say that the system is rigged,” he said.
There is a thinking in ODM to ask other Nasa parties not to field candidates in its perceived strongholds. The feeling is that intra-coalition competition will hurt the greater interests of the coalition.
Mr Odinga’s move to unveil the party’s candidate for the Garissa Town parliamentary seat, Nasir Dolal, has kicked up a storm which, if not well handled, could derail Nasa since Mr Maalim has also declared interest in the parliamentary seat and it is feared that the pattern could be replicated across the country.
Wiper sees this as meant to hit at Mr Maalim, who recently ditched the Orange party for Wiper. The prized seat is currently held by vocal Majority Leader in the National Assembly Aden Duale.
Wiper Secretary-General Hassan Omar, who is keen to be elected Mombasa governor, has been unrelenting in his attacks on ODM deputy leader Hassan Joho. He told the Sunday Nation that no individual party in Nasa has the powers to order others on what to do.
“We need to be cautious on such matters which are likely to cause divisions in the coalition,” Mr Omar warns.
Kenya National Congress (KNC) leader and South Mugirango MP Manson Nyamweya said his party will support the Nasa Presidential candidate and field candidates in all the remaining positions countrywide, indicating a stance likely to be taken by other smaller parties.