Eldoret North MP William Ruto has laid down an elaborate, if ambitious, plan to bag a majority of parliamentary seats in the coming election.
The plan, politicians close to the United Republican Party presidential hopeful revealed, targets at least 100 MPs and half of the Senate.
The thinking is that if he doesn’t win the presidency, the seats will hand him and his party the powerful post of Majority Leader as well as a strong bargaining position in a post-election coalition.
The Ruto campaign estimates that after clinching at least 100 seats, the rest will be shared amongst Prime Minister Raila Odinga’s Orange Democratic Movement, The National Alliance of Uhuru Kenyatta, Vice-President Kalonzo Musyoka’s Wiper and United Democratic Front of Musalia Mudavadi.
The calculation, according to Mr Ruto’s allies, is to garner sufficient numbers to ensure that the URP leader determines who becomes the next Commander-in-Chief if he does not win State House.
“Our battle is two-pronged,” says Dujis MP Aden Duale, URP’s de facto “chief whip” and a Ruto confidant.
“We want to win both the presidency and Majority Leader. If we do not get the presidency, definitely our next option is the Majority Leader which is a very powerful position,” revealed Mr Duale.
The leader of the majority party shall be the person who will have headed the largest party or coalition of parties in the National Assembly. According to Article 28 of the Constitution, the Majority Leader will be the second most powerful person in Parliament after the Speaker.
For example, it would require the cooperation of the Majority Leader for the Executive to secure parliamentary support for government-sponsored Bills and approval of key presidential appointments or decisions.
Last week, Mr Ruto opened his presidential campaign secretariat on Ngong Road, away from the party’s office in Nairobi’s Lavington suburb.
The office will be run by Dr Ogla Karan, an economist, and a former Kenya Airways pilot, Capt Ngeny Biwott. On Wednesday, Mr Ruto is scheduled to address all URP aspirants at Nairobi’s Nyayo National Stadium before heading to northern Kenya later in the week.
Sources close to him on Saturday indicated that he has procured a fleet of 10 four-wheel drive vehicles and a helicopter to help in the presidential campaign. Mr Duale and URP chairman and former House Speaker Francis ole Kaparo gave the Sunday Nation a sneak preview of the Ruto power plan.
It emerges to be the same arrangement that kept Kanu in power for two terms against a strong opposition after the 1992 re-introduction of multi-party democracy.
Simple. The Ruto strategy is to first consolidate the populous Kalenjin Rift Valley vote and reach out to the small communities mostly pastoralists. The last census ranked the Kalenjin as Kenya’s third largest community after the Kikuyu and the Luhya.
Mr Ruto also banks on the support of the Turkana with seven seats, North Eastern (21), Samburu, Upper Eastern (Isiolo, Marsabit, Moyale), sections of the Coast and some Maa constituencies.
Mr Kaparo said they were confident their presidential candidate will emerge number one in the General Election.
“We are eyeing votes from the pastoralist communities who occupy 70 per cent of the country and their populations combined beat any alliance of big communities.
“That’s how we plan to win not only the presidency but also a majority of the parliamentary seats,” said Mr Kaparo.
“We have most of the Rift Valley constituencies, upper Eastern counties of Marsabit, Isiolo and Moyale, North Eastern and parts of Coast Province.” On Saturday, Mr Ruto declined to discuss details of his plan but declared he was in the race to win.
“Having participated in the Uhuru Kenyatta campaign in 2002 and later the Raila Odinga 2007 campaign alongside the two referendums, I have not only assembled a countrywide network but I also have the necessary experience to mount a serious presidential campaign. I will surprise many in the next election,” he said.
After securing the pastoralists’ vote, the party hopes to pick a seat here and there across the country. The Ruto campaign is particularly emboldened by the numbers in the Rift Valley that backed Mr Odinga in the last election, the dynamics having since changed dramatically to the Premier’s disadvantage even as his lieutenants remain confident that the PM will recover lost ground.
With the approval of new boundaries this past week, the region got an additional 26 constituencies. This will raise the number of elected MPs in the area to 75 from the current 49. Add 14 women MPs from the counties.
Mr Ruto has enlisted Environment minister Chirau Mwakwere to mobilise support for him at the Coast now with 25 constituencies while MP Ekwee Ethuro will be his chief campaigner in Turkana.
Mr Stanley Rotich, an official of the United Democratic Movement, however, faulted the strategy, saying it will not be a walk in the park for Mr Ruto in the Rift Valley.
Mr Rotich says Mr Ruto’s success will largely depend on his respect for senior Kalenjin leaders such as retired President Moi, Roads minister Franklin Bett and Tinderet MP Henry Kosgey who are opposed to his candidature.
He says there are also questions about Mr Ruto’s political alliance with Mr Kenyatta. “Mr Ruto will face resistance if people realise that he wants to sell them to Mt Kenya. His strategy of blaming the Prime Minister for his problems is not sustainable. Kalenjins may in future realise that that is not the truth.”
Moreover, Mr Ruto’s candidature still hangs in the balance over his case at the International Criminal Court where he is fighting crimes against humanity charges.
The ICC in January committed Mr Ruto alongside Mr Kenyatta, Mr Francis Muthaura and Mr Joshua Sang to trial in connection with the 2007/8 violence. The trial starts in April next year.
The Ruto campaign will also battle against ODM chairman Mr Kosgey, who has launched a well-oiled and aggressive campaign to re-establish the Orange party in the region.
In his effort, he has settled on a strategy that by-passes the sitting MPs in Rift Valley, a number of whom have expressed support for Mr Ruto’s party.
“We will go directly to the people. A majority of our people don’t want to be entrapped in tribal enclaves,” Mr Kosgey says.
“This country requires reconciliation and not tribal alliances whose only rallying point is to marginalise one community and stop an individual from ascending to the presidency.”
URP, whose symbol is a horn, has cast itself as the party of pastoralists with Mr Ruto focusing his campaign in areas occupied by herders for the past two months.
And at 14, the Rift Valley has the highest number of counties. These include Turkana, West Pokot, Samburu, Trans Nzoia, Uasin Gishu, Elgeyo/Marakwet, Nandi and Baringo.
Others are Baringo, Laikipia, Nakuru, Narok, Kajiado, Kericho and Bomet. Mr Duale said he was confident that the Ruto party can grab a majority of the 75 parliamentary seats.
The problematic areas, in their estimation, will be Laikipia (with the exception of Laikipia North constituency where Mr Kaparo comes from), Kajiado and Nakuru which host a significant Kikuyu population expected to back Mr Kenyatta.
Parts of the cosmopolitan North Rift such as Trans Nzoia and Heritage minister William ole Ntimama’s Narok County which overwhelmingly backed Mr Odinga in 2007 may also pose a challenge.