Kericho by-election a test for DP Ruto

By-election presented opportunity to gauge leader’s ability to retain Kalenjin vote in one basket.

Tuesday March 8 2016

Elgeyo Marakwet Senator Kipchumba Murkomen joins Kericho residents in early celebrations after the Jubilee Alliance Party candidate Mr Aaron Cheruiyot opened a wide gap in the provisional results, leading his closest rival by almost double the votes on March 7, 2016. PHOTO | TONNY OMONDI | NATION MEDIA GROUP

Elgeyo Marakwet Senator Kipchumba Murkomen joins Kericho residents in early celebrations after the Jubilee Alliance Party candidate Mr Aaron Cheruiyot opened a wide gap in the provisional results, leading his closest rival by almost double the votes on March 7, 2016. PHOTO | TONNY OMONDI | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

By BERNARD NAMUNANE
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Besides the public euphoria it has generated, Monday's Kericho by-election was a Kalenjin community affair with national implications.

It was a poll that presented an opportunity to test Deputy President William Ruto’s ability to retain the Kalenjin vote in one basket as he has done since 2007, on the one hand, and a launching ground for the independence party’s revival ahead of the 2017 elections, on the other hand.

Attempts by the Deputy President’s rival on the national stage to join in the campaigns to replace Energy Cabinet Secretary Charles Keter were declined by the Kanu side, it is understood, who wanted the by-election to remain entirely a regional matter.

The idea, which has kept Cord and Amani leaders away from the by-election campaigns, has turned out to be a contest between old and new money among the elite from the region.

Mr Ruto leads a team of new leaders who have emerged in the region, which was hitherto been dominated by a wealthy group that benefited from retired President Daniel arap Moi’s 24 years at the helm.

That is why the Kanu team, led by Baringo Senator Gideon Moi and party Secretary-General Nick Salat, included Kuresoi MP Zakayo Cheruiyot, Narok Senator Stephen ole Ntutu and URP rebels Isaac Ruto (Bomet Governor), Alfred Keter (Nandi MP) and Oscar Sudi (Kapseret MP). But they were wrong.

NATIONAL POLITICS

The fact that Jubilee Alliance Party’s Aaron Cheruiyot was running a fierce campaign against Kanu’s Paul Sang with four other contenders does not make it entirely a Kalenjin affair.

The Deputy President is playing national politics, and is already laying plans for his stab at the presidency in 2022.

To stay on course, it is absolutely important that the Rift Valley is firmly behind him.

Contrary to popular belief, the creation of JAP, which will soon mutate into Jubilee Party of Kenya (JPK), is Mr Ruto’s idea — to retain both the TNA and URP support at the end of President Uhuru Kenyatta’s term in 2022, if they win the next elections.

This is why the two affiliate parties have to merge into JPK.

It would be politically naïve to imagine that the Deputy President would want to retain TNA support when his own people are moving in droves to Kanu or any other party.

He must ensure that the Rift Valley vote, including that of other pastoralist areas, is under lock, stock, and barrel.

This is where the Kericho by-election comes in. It is important to note that it comes against the backdrop of noises from the South Rift, led by the Bomet governor. The leaders cite failed promises and URP being allegedly short-changed by TNA in appointment to top jobs.

The by-election presented a perfect opportunity for the Kipsigis to tell the DP what they feel, which they did without fear.

The fact that Mr Ruto apologised for neglecting the region tells of the gravity of the matter in which some had vowed to teach him a lesson.

It is on this wave of discontent that the Kanu brigade is riding, hoping that they can cause an upset in the by-election.

JAP did not help itself much by settling on a fairly unknown candidate with close links in URP. Kanu has nothing to lose.

The by-election has already given it a platform to relaunch itself in the Rift Valley and claim a stake in an estimated 4 million votes in the region. A Sang victory will be a bonus.

Matters are complicated for Mr Ruto whichever way the by-election goes.

A victory for Mr Cheruiyot will silence his critics and demonstrate to his coalition partners that he is the king in the region.

But beneath the victory, there will be a disturbing thought on the sizeable votes cast for Kanu.

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