Three days after President Uhuru Kenyatta’s confidant David Murathe declared that Jubilee Party has no candidate for State House race in 2022, Deputy President William Ruto’s allies are planning a counter-move in the new year that he hopes will turn the tide in his favour going forward.
On Friday, Dr Ruto reached out to members of county assemblies (MCAs) as he sought to solidify his national support across the country ahead of 2022.
Dr Ruto met MCAs from Kakamega, Baringo and Elgeyo-Marakwet counties at his Sugoi home in Uasin Gishu County.
Though the agenda of the meeting was "empowering MCAs to strengthen devolution", sources said that 2022 succession politics cropped up, with the MCAs assuring Dr Ruto of their unwavering support.
This week, conversations with a number of Dr Ruto’s allies suggested that they are not sitting pretty, even after the President moved to allay fears on Friday that he never engaged in 2022 politics with ODM leader Raila Odinga in their March 9 “handshake” that has dramatically changed the political scene.
During an interview in Mombasa on Friday, the President dwelt at length on the Building Bridges Initiative, saying it would be part of his administration’s priority focus area in 2019.
Dr Ruto’s lieutenants, who double up as members of “the war council” charged with delivering the presidency, are working on a multi-pronged blueprint they hope will neutralise the effects of the political truce (handshake) Mr Kenyatta had with Mr Odinga on March 9.
The truce has increasingly blunted his succession plan and emboldened those against his State House bid, some even in the ruling party.
Part of the plan is to go public on their displeasure and, at some point, play the victim card.
This, we gathered, will be intended to make the President and his allies look dishonest in the court of public opinion. The hope is that this could boost Dr Ruto’s popularity ratings.
“We were together as Jubilee Party under the slogan "Tuko Pamoja" (we are together). But are we really together?” Majority Whip Ben Washiali, who sits in the council, told the Sunday Nation.
He went on: “We were together and we are now out. You can’t keep telling us that we are together when you have other people at the eating table. Let’s see what the new year holds.”
He hinted that a major announcement on a way forward could be coming.
“If he (Dr Ruto) has an MoU with Mr Kenyatta, then that was an agreement between two individuals," Mr Murathe said on Wednesday in Vihiga, sentiments that have now sparked a political storm.
While opinion is divided inside the DP’s camp on whether such a move would be prudent, going for an all-out war more than three years to the next elections, there is near consensus after Mr Murathe’s remarks that the deep State is keen to back somebody else to take over from Mr Kenyatta.
Equally, the deep State is keen to drop its support for the presidential system of government in favour of a parliamentary one, an abrupt U-turn from an earlier position.
Dr Ruto has maintained that he would like to assume the mantle of power without any alterations to the current structure.
"He (Dr Ruto) is going around opposing the referendum. Jubilee is yet to take a position. What is he opposing yet there is no question? Uhuru said in Kisumu we must change the Constitution to accommodate all to ensure inclusion. Raila has a following that must be accommodated in government,” Mr Murathe said.
The change of heart, a high-ranking member of the council confided, is to avoid isolation as the referendum campaign gathers steam.
Mr Kenyatta’s remarks in Kisumu a fortnight ago, calling for a change in law to correct the winner-take-it-all arrangement, is said to have informed the new position.
They argue that taking on the President head-on could boomerang.
They have interpreted the Kisumu trip, the first since Mr Kenyatta took the oath of office for his second term, as a formal launch of the referendum push that would see changes introduced into the Constitution before the next General Election.
The war council, made up of majority leaders in Parliament Kipchumba Murkomen and Aden Duale, Energy Cabinet Secretary Charles Keter, Deputy Senate Speaker Kithure Kindiki, former Kakamega Senator Boni Khalwale and Mr Washiali, among others, believes that chances of their man becoming the next President are thinning by the day.
This is especially so since President Kenyatta appears reluctant to publicly endorse him, as they had expected when the two sides joined hands in 2013.
Other sources pointed out that the feeling in the group is captured in the recent pronouncements by Mr Duale on the floor of the House.
Those around the Deputy President have identified the presidential results transmission system as the greatest impediment to his dream of ascending to the presidency in 2022, and a referendum would present an opportunity to correct this.
They also complained that President Kenyatta had abandoned the people who supported him in 2017 and is busy dining with those who opposed him.
They say the current votes transmission regime is prone to manipulation that could lead to subjugation of the popular will, something that is bound to raise questions about the integrity of past elections.
In the last three presidential elections, the transmission of results has been the source of furious disputes, with the Supreme Court being requested to determine whether the final tally matched what was transmitted from the constituencies in the last two polls.
While those close to Dr Ruto say he strongly prefers the presidential system, the option to support a parliamentary one is borne out of the fact that it has fewer risks when it comes to transmitting results.
In any case, in a parliamentary system, the prime minister (PM) is almost always elected by Parliament, where the leader of the party or coalition that wins the largest number of seats automatically becomes PM.
There are indications that the political class is keen to reintroduce the premier position.
“The presidential system is enticed and entangled with corruption, because the contestants want to take money. There is corruption at IEBC, there is corruption in the transmission of results,” Mr Duale said, expressing the fears that haunt the DP and his team.
“Let’s adopt the parliamentary system of government so that the constituency becomes the theatre of electoral battle,” Mr Duale said last week when he revealed the camp's change of plan on the floor of the House.
The Ruto camp has been unnerved by the President’s recent tour of Kisumu, where he was hosted by Mr Odinga.
During the tour, protocol was angled in favour of Mr Odinga, to the disadvantage of Dr Ruto.
This raised fears of a possible political deal between the Kikuyu and Luo communities, the top two groups that have defined Kenya’s post-independence politics.
“If you want everybody to win, then the country must adopt a federal system of government where each county will have its own president. I also want to be the president of the Garissa federal state,” Mr Duale told the House while calling for introduction of a majimbo system of government.
Under the system, the Garissa Township MP said, all functions would be devolved while 80 percent of the national revenue would be devolved to the federal states.
“This is a conversation that we must have starting January. I will only support the push to amend the Constitution if federalism is the way to go.”
Aware that some powerful brokers would not support the majimbo idea, the DP’s camp knows it is muddying the waters.