The succession battle among President Kibaki’s supporters intensified on Friday with the election of Internal Security minister George Saitoti as PNU chairman.
Prof Saitoti joins Vice-President Kalonzo Musyoka and Deputy Prime Minister Uhuru Kenyatta in the list of those who have taken vantage positions to claim President Kibaki’s constituency when the Head of State retires in 2012.
A third candidate, Justice, National Cohesion and Constitutional Affairs minister Martha Karua, has taken a more independent position and was recently criticised by the President for starting early presidential campaigns.
During Friday’s elections at Moi International Sports Centre Gymnasium, Kasarani in Nairobi, President Kibaki was endorsed as PNU party leader, joining his coalition partner Raila Odinga, who was on Thursday elected ODM party leader.
For Prof Saitoti, it was a triumphal return to Kasarani, this time round winning unopposed the PNU chairmanship.
It was a change of fortunes for a man who six years ago was humiliated at the same venue when he was outwitted in a battle to succeed former President Daniel arap Moi in Kanu. Prof Saitoti had not returned to Kasarani until Friday.
His election puts him in pole position to battle it out with Mr Musyoka (ODM Kenya) and Mr Kenyatta, as successor to the President’s seat.
Kanu and ODM Kenya leaders on Friday said they did not believe that Prof Saitoti’s election would change the Kibaki succession battle.
Kanu national organising secretary Justin Muturi said Prof Saitoti could not be a threat to the party or to Mr Kenyatta, their chairman.
ODM-K secretary-general Mutula Kilonzo said Prof Saitoti would not complicate matters for the VP because PNU was the party’s coalition partner.
However, Mr Kilonzo congratulated Prof Saitoti on behalf of ODM-K, saying his win was good for multiparty democracy.
Mr Muturi noted that Prof Saitoti had not declared that he wanted to be President. “We don’t know whether he wants any other post besides what he was given today (yesterday) during the party elections,” he said.
Mr Muturi said PNU did not have grassroots following. But Igembe South MP Mithika Linturi sees it differently.
He said Prof Saitoti’s election as PNU chairman portended danger not only for Kanu but for other parties that drew support from Central and Eastern provinces.
“If we are to go to elections today, ODM would comfortably win. They would even be in a position to convince a leader from the Kanu/PNU/ODM Kenya group to join them,” he said, adding that this would happen because PNU and its allies — Kanu and ODM-K — would be competing for votes in their own turfs, leaving ODM to enjoy support from the rest of the country like it happened during the last General Election.
He foresaw a situation in which Prof Saitoti, Mr Kenyatta and Mr Musyoka would be running separately, with sponsorship from their respective parties.
However, Mr Linturi said the whole scenario could change should the Waki report on post-election violence be implemented.
Mr Josiah Magut, who is Kanu’s representative in Rift Valley Province, said even if Prof Saitoti were to run for president, it would not affect Kanu.
According to him, President Kibaki has been working behind the scenes to bring Mr Kenyatta and Agriculture minister William Ruto together to bolster Mr Musyoka’s chances in 2012.
“What I know is that Prof Saitoti will eventually support the Uhuru-Ruto-Kalonzo group,” he said.
The election makes Prof Saitoti the most senior politician in the party after the President, who was unanimously elected as the party leader on Frida.
President Kibaki was proposed as party leader by Prof Saitoti and seconded by Wildlife minister Noah Wekesa. President Kibaki’s election immediately drew song, dance and ululations from the delegates as the Head of State rose and waved at the crowd.
However, the election of Prof Saitoti as chairman did not come easily. Some delegates, mainly from western Kenya, opposed his candidature, but it was not clear whom they preferred.
The elections, conducted by acclamation, went on with Prof Saitoti being elected unopposed. He was proposed by MP Mohammed Abdi Mohamoud and seconded by Transport minister Chirau Ali Mwakwere.
Dr Wekesa, who abandoned his quest for chairmanship on Wednesday, was elected unopposed as first vice-chair in charge of operations.
The vice-chairman in charge of programmes is former Kitutu Chache MP Jimmy Angwenyi. Others elected as vice chairmen were Mr Jamleck Kamau (strategy and research), Mr George Nyamweya (elections affairs) and Mr Mwakwere (resource mobilisation).
However, there was drama when delegates from Central Province disputed Mr Kamau’s election, saying the position had been reserved for Gender minister Esther Murugi.
It emerged later that the minister had been earmarked for the position of Women’s Affairs in charge of strategy, which she declined saying she had been denied the vice-chairperson’s position.
Said the Cabinet minister: “I will not take up that position because you denied me the one I had wanted to vie for.”
Energy minister Kiraitu Murungi was elected secretary-general unopposed, Mr Mohamoud Mohammed (treasurer), Mr Maina Kamanda (organising secretary) and Ms Beth Mugo (national women’s leader).
Others elected were Mr Steven Tarus (youth leader) and Mr Ekwe Ethuro as director of elections. He will be assisted by Mr Mohammed Shidiye and Mr Lewis Nguyai.
The new deputy secretaries general are Mr Jeremiah Kioni, who will be in charge of programmes, Mr Ali Wario (operations), and Ms Betty Tett (strategy).
The new deputy national treasurers are Bishop Genari Wando (operations), Mr Ndiritu Muriithi (programmes) and Ms Jane Mwikali (strategy) while the new deputy organising secretaries are Ms Cecily Mbarire (operations), Mr Nixon Butia (programmes) and Pastor Cherorot (strategy).
Nominated MP Maison Leshomo was elected the chairperson for women’s affairs programmes. She will be assisted by Mrs Priscah Wekesa Mwaita while political activist Stanley Livondo was elected secretary for integrity and governance.
The elections, which took two hours, came a day after coalition partner ODM held its polls at the Bomas of Kenya in Nairobi.
The elections are being conducted in line with the provisions of the Political Parties Act, which requires parties to elect officials and file returns to the registrar by December 31, 2008.
Before the elections, Dr Steven Njiru, the PNU legal adviser, proposed several amendments to the party’s constitution to accommodate more party officials. The amendments saw the creation of the party leader’s post, the chairman and five vice-chairmen, among others.
Reports by Dave Opiyo, Muchemi Wachira and Oliver Mathenge