Agriculture minister William Ruto on Monday declared he will contest the presidency in the next election.
If he does so, then he will face a raft of other contenders, including his party leader, Prime Minister Raila Odinga, the presumed front-runner for the ODM nomination.
Making the announcement, Mr Ruto said those who had been “assisted by the Kalenjin community” had failed to win the presidency therefore it was time for them “to give us the backing so that we show them the way”.
However, Kisumu Town West MP Olago Aluoch challenged Mr Ruto to quit ODM and seek a fresh mandate instead of weakening the party from within.
He said Mr Ruto had a democratic right to seek the presidency in another party “now and not tomorrow”.
He also criticised the minister, saying it was not yet time for campaigns. According to him, internal party democracy does not give anybody the right to vilify an elected party leader.
“We saw it coming but it is only fair for Mr Ruto to write to the Speaker of the National Assembly that he has resigned and wants a by-election in his constituency. The time is now,” Mr Oluoch said.
Both the Prime Minister and ODM Secretary-General, Prof Anyang’ Nyong’o were not available for comment as they are in China for an official visit.
However, Prof Nyong’o said he would respond when he returns.
A Synovate (previously Steadman) opinion poll at the weekend showed Mr Odinga as the runaway favourite to win the presidency if an election were to be held now. Some 31 per cent of those polled said they would vote for him if the election was called at the time of the interview.
Mr Ruto was the choice of only seven per cent of the respondents, Vice-President Kalonzo Musyoka 14 per cent and Finance minister Uhuru Kenyatta 10 per cent.
“For us to garner the top seat, we must unite as a community and reject those in our midst out to divide us,” Mr Ruto said.
He criticised Mr Odinga, whom he claimed was out to divide the community and its leaders.
“His recent visit to Chepalungu where he reversed the earlier decision by elders to have the district headquarters located at Sigor and moved it to Siongiroi was meant to divide the community and not to unite it,” Mr Ruto said.
Konoin MP Julius Kones of ODM said he supported Mr Ruto’s bid for the top seat. “We want our own, we cannot afford any more to go begging for leaders when we can produce one as a community,” he said.
According to him, Mr Ruto qualified to be president.
“Our unity as a community and leaders is the envy of many and they are now trying to use some sell-outs in the community to frustrate our efforts; be careful,” Dr Kones said.
Chepalungu MP Isaac Ruto also called for unity and supported Mr Ruto’s ambitions, as did Bomet mayor Leonard Barsumei.
In 2007, Mr Ruto unsuccessfully vied for the ODM nomination, but finished third after Mr Odinga and Mr Musalia Mudavadi. Mr Odinga, who was the party leader, became its flagbearer and named Mr Mudavadi as his running mate and deputy party leader.
Last year, Mr Ruto was also named joint deputy party leader.
African Gospel Church (Kenya) assistant Bishop Paul Leleito said that given its past problems, Rift Valley had no choice but produce a presidential candidate.
Last week at a funds drive for Kaplong Girl’s Secondary School, Energy assistant minister Charles Keter had drummed up support for Mr Ruto’s presidential bid.
“Mr Ruto is ripe enough for the seat and you need to give him all the support he requires to achieve his presidential ambitions,” Mr Keter said.
Roads minister, Franklin Bett has also declared his intention to vie for the top seat.
During the wedding of Mr Kevin Kipng’etich Kalya at Kaparuso Primary School, Mr Bett said he had a wealth of experience in the presidency, having served for 12 years as State House Comptroller during the tenure of the then President Moi.
Mr Kipng’etich is a son of former Road minister Kipkalya Kones who died in a plane crash last year.
Mr Bett’s critics said he was “spoiler” but his supporters said he deserved the seat.
Mr Ruto becomes the third ODM leader, after Mr Mudavadi and Mr Bett, to declare his intention to vie for the presidency.
It is widely assumed that Mr Odinga will also have a shot at the seat in 2012.