The Kieleweke wing of the Jubilee Party wants President Uhuru Kenyatta to hand-pick new officials of the party in an apparent attempt to nip in the bud the push by Deputy President William Ruto to take control of the outfit.
This comes even as it emerged that allies of Dr Ruto have now backed the interim officials led by Secretary-General Raphael Tuju to continue with their term for a further six months or one year.
The ruling party had set next month as the deadline within which it would conduct its elections.
The re-organisation of the party to reflect the wishes of the president, those in the Kieleweke wing argued, was an urgent matter to protect his legacy, which they said was under threat from leaders opposing some of his policies.
“The president, as our party leader, needs to call the National Executive Council, give them names of the leadership structure he wants, bring it to the party National Delegates Council and we put it to a vote,” Nyeri Town MP Ngunjiri Wambugu told the Sunday Nation.
Save for Mr Tuju, who was appointed to the position in March 2017, all the other interim officials got into office on November 5, 2016 after the party was formed from the merger of 12 political parties.
The interim officials shall not serve for a term exceeding three years from the date of appointment, the party constitution says.
This means that the planned election of the substantive party officials is long overdue.
Even with the problems facing the party, and the apparent total breakdown of communication between him and the president, Dr Ruto insists that the party is intact and would survive the current political situation.
“Jubilee is solid. Let no one tell you any other story. Uhuru and I are like a car and battery. We will never separate,” Dr Ruto said at a fundraiser at Giakanja Boys in Nyeri on Friday.
During an interview with NTV last month, the deputy president kept a brave face, saying the party, while having not met as frequently as he would have hoped, had plans to build its strength.
"We haven't had a meeting of NEC as well. There is basically an agreement that there will be time for us to meet as NEC, as a parliamentary group and organise our party so that we can move into the next election,” he said.
Dr Ruto indicated that the March date was still planned for the party elections, but seemed to suggest that the far bigger concern was a meeting of the party.
Jubilee has never met since 2017, when President Kenyatta hosted a parliamentary group meeting where he named members he wanted chosen to chair different committees in the House.
"We haven't met as a party for the last two years, and we have not had a PG. We are going to have party elections, hopefully, in March but that is an in-house matter. As a party, we will sit down and work it out, and we will move forward," Dr Ruto said.
And in what appears like a change of heart, Belgut MP Nelson Koech, a key ally of the DP, told the Sunday Nation that the term of the interim officials should be extended by the National Executive Council and endorsed through a meeting of the party’s National Delegates Council.
It is understood that the DP camp fears that a push for the election at this moment would be counter-productive for a party that Dr Ruto says will stand the test of time.
“Our secretary-general right now is indisposed and it will very unfair and unkind to go for elections now. What should happen is that the party should call for a National Delegates Council to endorse the interim officials to serve for a further six months, or one year as we plan on how and when to conduct the elections,” said Mr Koech.
Since Mr Tuju is in the hospital following an accident at the Nairobi-Nakuru highway on Wednesday, Mr Koech wants his deputy, Caleb Kositany, who is also the Soy MP, to take charge.
“Our party constitution, just like any other case, allows the deputy to take charge when the holder of the office is incapacitated.”
For an ambitious man seeking to take his first stab at the presidency, the control of the ruling party and its officials is key for Ruto.
But with the increasingly hostile President Kenyatta keen to re-stamp his authority, it appears, a direct challenge on him through the party elections may prove futile, if not self-injuring.
PUSH FOR COMPLIANCE
The Jubilee constitution provides that the national officials be elected by a team comprising 19 delegates from each of the 47 counties.
The planned elections and the talk of its postponement comes at a time when the party is among those that the registrar of political parties, Ann Nderitu, has asked to urgently comply with their constitutions and hold grassroots elections.
“We have held compliance meetings with major political parties and we reminded them that they must adhere to their set election timetables. Most of them are falling due and we expect all of them to comply,” Ms Nderitu said.
But even as the registrar called for compliance, it appears that is all she can do. “There is no mechanism in law of enforcing (the holding of) party elections. But even though we may not have a mechanism to enforce, we are relying on the individual party constitutions and we expect compliance,” said Ms Nderitu.
Even as he proposed that President Kenyatta names party officials agreeable to him, Mr Wambugu, the Nyeri Town MP, said that the cleaning of the house must go to Parliament as well, which he said was a priority.
National Assembly Speaker Justin Muturi, deputy majority leader Jimmy Angwenyi, and deputy chief whip Cecily Mbarire lean on the President’s side while Majority Leader Aden Duale, deputy speaker Moses Cheboi, and Chief whip Ben Washiali side with the DP.
In the Senate, Speaker Ken Lusaka, his deputy Kithure Kindiki, Majority leader Kipchumba Murkomen, and Majority whip Susan Kihika lean on the DP’s side, with deputy chief whip Irungu Kang’ata and deputy majority leader Fatuma Dullo seen to lean on President Kenyatta’s side.
With 34 senators, 10 of whom are nominated, the majority (18) must sit in a parliamentary group meeting whose minutes must be submitted to the speaker for verification before Mr Murkomen, the majority leader, can be removed.
Together with nominated MP Maina Kamanda, Mr Wambugu has been leading calls for the removal of parliamentary leaders seen to be against the president.