Deputy Prime Minister Uhuru Kenyatta is facing a political test in the Meru region even as a majority of MPs troop to his camp.
The rivalry between Mr Kenyatta and his hitherto point man in the region Kiraitu Murungi , the Energy minister, appeared to escalate on Saturday with the latter declaring Mr Kenyatta’s The National Alliance (TNA) would be “treated as a rival” in the region.
Speaking at Siakago MP Lenny Kivuti’s home in Kanyuambora market in Embu, Mr Murungi claimed his Alliance Party of Kenya (APK) was popular in 43 counties and had the capacity to marshal enough support to enable it bargain for posts in a post-election coalition.
Talk of APK positioning itself as an alternative in case of bruising TNA nominations is also gaining currency among aspirants for various seats in the region.
A highly placed APK official indicated it was hard to “dismantle the bus” because some aspirants had already “invested heavily” in the party.
“Many aspirants are in the party as they wanted to avoid the expected rigorous TNA nominations. Telling them to hold joint nomination infuriates them,” said the official who asked not to be named.
However, Mr Kenyatta’s visit to Meru on Friday left Mr Murungi’s position weaker after North Imenti MP Silas Muriuki decamped to TNA.
Mr Muriuki, until recently a key ally of the Energy minister, has in the recent past made scathing attacks on Mr Kenyatta and TNA.
“The ‘bus’ [APK] is now directionless. It cannot move because the party’s leadership has some dictatorial tendencies. We cannot have a party leader who differs with party delegates so often,” Mr Muriuki said.
Only Tigania East MP Peter Munya now remains in Mr Murungi’s camp. Sources close to Mr Murungi, who is seeking the Meru senate seat, have said the minister is rooting for Mr Munya to be Meru governor.
Sources in Prime Minister Raila Odinga’s ODM say Mr Murungi has been trying to reach out to the PM for a political deal. At stake are the region’s rich vote basket considered up for grabs with President Kibaki.
There were 630,500 registered voters in Meru and Tharaka Nithi counties as per the 2010 electoral register.
The figure is expected to significantly go up by the end of the ongoing voter registration. Mr Murungi, who sees himself as a force in the region, has said APK was getting a raw deal in its dealings with TNA.
The major point of departure between the two is understood to have been Mr Murungi’s holding out for the post of the Majority Leader in the Senate in the negotiations.
Mr Kenyatta reportedly argued handing the post to a politician from Mt Kenya politician would affect his coalition building efforts with other leaders also ‘eyeing such seats”.
One of Mr Kenyatta’s aides said “it was about positions and demands that were not tenable at this point in time”.
Mr Murungi’s APK is also said to have demanded a 50 per cent share of TNA’s government something Mr Kenyatta out rightly rejected.
The region has supported President Kibaki in the last four presidential elections.
It is this loyalty Mr Kenyatta hopes to inherit. In the 2002 election, Mr Kibaki garnered 68 per cent of the vote while Mr Kenyatta hived off 29 per cent of the votes.
It is only in Igembe and Ntonyiri constituencies where Mr Kenyatta, running on a Kanu ticket, beat Mr Kibaki.
In 2007, President Kibaki received 520,000 votes (95 per cent) against 16,210 votes (3 per cent) cast for Mr Odinga.
During his Meru visit, Mr Kenyatta is understood to have said he would not yield to blackmail, suggesting that he was ready to take the battle to Mr Murungi’s doorstep.
“I won’t be blackmailed. How do you ask what you will get even when we have not formed the government?” Mr Kenyatta asked during his meeting with 2,000 local leaders in Meru on Friday.
Mr Murungi’s problems in the region are further compounded by the age-old suspicions between Imenti and Tharaka people.
Notably, opposition to his ‘bus’ is greatest in neighbouring Tharaka Nithi County.
Nithi MP Kareke Mbiuki and Chuka mayor John Mbaabu, also a Chuka-Igambang’ombe parliamentary aspirant, said Mr Kenyatta was the uniting factor since APK had been shunned in many other areas.
“Mention the bus in Tharaka and it is blasphemy. The bus cannot be taken to Tharaka since area residents have shunned it. The only common denominator we have is Uhuru Kenyatta. He can sell across the two counties,” said Mr Mbiuki.