Panu throws Central Kenya politics into confusion
Published on September 23, 2007, 12:00 am
By Francis Ngige
Politicians in President Kibaki’s backyard of Central Province are going back to the drawing board following the unveiling of the Party of National Unity (Panu).
The politicians, mostly MPs and aspirants, have had their plans thrown into disarray after Kibaki announced his re-election vehicle.
Since most of them had aligned themselves in Narc-Kenya and Democratic Party, which appeared to be dominant in the region, they are now in a dilemma. This is even more so because the President is so far the only member allowed to contest on a Panu ticket. Following the launch, parliamentary and civic leaders are holding a series of meetings to plan how to approach the election and cut the influence of MPs.
Sources privy to the discussions told The Sunday Standard that a showdown between MPs and aspirants is looming.
During one of the meetings on Monday in Nairobi, the aspirants agreed to come up with a common stand on an “all inclusive” nomination.
“We want to ensure there would be no repeat of what happened during Narc-Kenya polls when MPs dominated the process,” says a parliamentary aspirant from Mukurweini.
Before the President and his allies launched the outfit last weekend, it was almost certain being in Narc-Kenya or DP was a sure way of capturing parliamentary and civic seats.
Going by the way Narc-Kenya grassroots elections were contested in all the constituencies in the region, the party appeared to have a foothold.
The polls were an epic battle between MPs and aspirants.
The battle got so intense and either ended up in courts or some losers sought solace in DP.
Risk of forming a government without minority
Now the equation has changed. Even veteran politicians are in a dilemma. They are caught in a political quagmire on whether to seek elective posts on their party tickets or jump ship to Panu, which is yet to set nomination rules.
Although it was stated clearly during the launch of Panu that all parties would retain their identities, observers are keen to see how politics unfold in central Kenya.
Analysts say most parliamentary and civic seats aspirants are likely to contest on Panu ticket.
Kibaki is expected to defend his Othaya parliamentary seat on the new alliance ticket, going by his public pronouncements.
Already, Sports minister Mr Maina Kamanda, an ally of President Kibaki, has suggested the new alliance should field parliamentary and civic candidates if it hopes to have an edge against the Opposition.
Although he is seeking re-election in Nairobi, Kamanda has influence in central Kenya politics and would be among leaders expected to chart the way forward.
During a recent visit to Nyeri, Kamanda suggested fielding candidates from all parties in Panu would be a waste of time and resources.
Kamanda, who was hosted by Kieni MP Dr Chris Murungaru in Narumoru, said the umbrella alliance to be used by President Kibaki should bring all other parties together.
The Starehe MP expressed fear that if Kibaki wins, he runs the risk of forming a government without a parliamentary majority if the coalition parties decide to pull in different directions. “We do not want to see a situation where Kibaki will form the next government without enough MPs on his side. It would be a weak government,” he said.
Murungaru said Narc-Kenya cannot make it alone without joining hands with other parties.
Parliamentary and civic aspirants have been holding meetings to chart new political path following the unveiling of Panu. Sources informed The Sunday Standard that aspirants are planning to ditch their constituent parties and vie on a Panu ticket since MPs are already in control of Narc-Kenya and have spent a lot of resources to popularise the party.
Some of them would be willing to throw in the towel and opt to vie on the new outfit.
The aspirants are set to present a raft of recommendations to the Panu national co-ordinating committee for consideration.
One of the conditions is, if Panu will field parliamentary and civic candidates, there should be joint nomination to be overseen by an independent body, like the Electoral Commission.
“This is the only way that we are going to ensure that MPs do not take advantage of the confusion and obtain nomination certificates,” says an aspirant from Kieni.
“Most of us feel each party in the alliance should be allowed to field its own parliamentary and civic candidates to stem interference by MPs.”
“We are not fearing to fight it out with the incumbents but the question in our minds is, will justice be done? Most of them have lost ground in their constituencies but would do everything to make a come back.”
The battle for supremacy in some areas seemed to have ended after Narc-Kenya party polls, which pitted aspirants against MPs.
In Mathira, for example, a lot of resources were used as MP Mr Nderitu Gachagua fought to keep off Mr Ephraim Maina and businessman Mr Peter Kuguru. The battle was so intense that people would have mistaken the party polls for a by-election.
But eventually, Maina, of Kirinyaga Construction Company, joined hands with Kuguru to carry the day, forcing Gachagua’s camp to contest the elections in court.
Parties in court
The case is still pending in the Karatina court. Losers who decamped to DP saw it as a Kibaki-friendly party that would not be difficult to sell. Parliamentary aspirants also formed an organisation to champion their cause when they realised they were not welcome in Narc-Kenya.
The organisation, headed by former Kanu operative and Subukia parliamentary aspirant Mr Onesmus Kimani Ngunjiri, accused the MPs of attempting to sideline other individuals in the running of party affairs.
The aspirants even threatened to hold parallel party meetings. This prompted the National Executive Committee to incorporate them in the decision-making organ. Now that Narc-Kenya seems to be losing relevance, it will be interesting to see how politicians re-group. Assistant minister Mr Mwangi Kiunjuri, who is one of Narc-Kenya founder members, admits the launch of Panu has brought new challenges to the parties supporting Kibaki’s re-election.
“It is too early to predict what is going to happen before the elections are called,” he says.
The Laikipia East MP says all parties under Panu had decided to hold primary nominations before submitting the names to the National Coordinating Committee.
The exercise is expected to be concluded in the next two weeks and give a green light to nominated contenders.
Kiunjuri says there is no reason to worry since all the parties fighting for elective seats support Kibaki’s second bid. Apart from Narc-Kenya and DP, which have a following in the region, there is also the Mr Uhuru Kenyatta factor.
Since Uhuru has abandoned his quest for the presidency in favour of Kibaki, a number of candidates are bound to contest on Kanu tickets.
Uhuru’s entry into Kibaki’s camp has raised excitement among the President’s supporters. It is likely the candidates would be torn between vying on the former ruling party’s ticket or the umbrella outfit.
Uhuru has insisted that Kanu should retain its identity and should be considered an independent party.
Re-alignment is also taking place in areas where Uhuru enjoys support.
Parliamentary aspirants allied to Uhuru are bracing for a fight with those from Narc-Kenya and DP.
“Some of us lost in 2002 because we vied on a Kanu ticket but now since there is only one presidential candidate from Central, we are back in contention,” says a former MP.
He added: “Being in a party allied to Kibaki is a sure way of making to Parliament.”
In 2005, Uhuru joined hands with other leaders in the Orange Democratic Movement to campaign against the proposed constitution.
The Kanu chairman looked like a sole campaigner then in the region. The province voted overwhelmingly for the draft constitution leaving Uhuru to walk on a tight rope.
This time around, with Uhuru out of the presidential race, the constituencies in the two districts might as well vote for Kibaki but elect MPs vying on Kanu ticket.