Kenya: Will political realignment season bring a Jubilee-ODM merger?

By Victor Abuso
Posted on Thursday, 1 July 2021 20:28

Kenya's President Uhuru Kenyatta, flanked by deputy president William Ruto and opposition leader Raila Odinga launch the Building Bridges Initiative in Nairobi, Kenya, 27 November 2019. REUTERS/Monica Mwangi

Kenya’s ruling Jubilee Party is in talks with the largest opposition party, the Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) to form a coalition ahead of the 2022 August general election. It could lead to a joint presidential candidate and/or a merger of the two parties.

President Uhuru Kenyatta leads the Jubilee Party, which has been in power since it was formed in 2013; while the ODM, formed in 2005, is led by veteran opposition chief Raila Odinga.

In recent years, Kenyatta and Odinga have enjoyed political cooperation after they buried their political differences in 2018, following a bitter election the previous year- which was re-run after the supreme court threw out the initial results.

Raphael Tuju, Jubilee’s secretary general, says talks are ongoing between the two political parties, with the aim of reaching a consensus to field a single presidential candidate in 2022.

“If we reach an agreement on an alliance […] we shall have a one presidential candidate for Jubilee and ODM,” he says, adding that time is of the of essence. “We have to agree in good time because elections are next year,” he tells The Africa Report.

Peachy for Orange?

ODM – which unsuccessfully contested the presidency in 2007, 2013 and 2017 with Odinga as its presidential candidate – argues that a coalition with Jubilee could deliver the presidency this time round.

Confirming the coalition talks, ODM secretary general Edwin Sifuna says the ODM has done its analysis, and argues that a coalition with Jubilee will be of great benefit.

“Our party members have been traumatised with past coalitions; we see a great value with Jubilee ahead of the 2022 election,” he says. “In this coalition, we shall only have two principals, our party leader and Jubilee’s, as compared to our last coalition.”

Why work together?

In the history of multiparty politics, since 1992, this is the first time the ruling party is in discussions with the largest opposition party to form the next government.

Brian Wanyama, a political scientist from Kibabii University, says though it will be the first time for the ruling and opposition parties to form a new political vehicle, it is normal in the Kenyan political scene. “In the past, we have seen bitter rivals: Uhuru Kenyatta and [deputy president] William Ruto, come together and win the 2013 elections”.

Furthermore, Wanyama says, Jubilee and ODM coming together is all about political interests of the two political outfits, and aims to look for a rich basket of votes in central and western Kenya. “Kenyans should expect more realignment of politicians and political parties, it’s all about winning the next elections.”

On numerous occasions, Kenyatta and Odinga – who since 2018 have turned to be political friends – have said the aim of their unity is to leave a united country after the 2022 elections. But they are also working together to stop Ruto from winning in the 2022 election.

Will the Jubilee-ODM merge prepare a Odinga candidacy?

Kenyatta is on his last term as president. The Kenyan constitution states that a president can only serve for two terms of five years each, and after that, he or she cannot run again. Kenyatta, who has been in power since 2013, is set to retire in August 2022; so he is looking for a successor.

Kenyatta has since fallen out with Ruto, who has said the Jubilee Party – that brought them to power – has been damaged and hijacked. Last year, the Jubilee declared Ruto persona non grata, for undermining Kenyatta. Since then, Ruto has aligned himself to the newly formed United Democratic Alliance (UDA).

Odinga, who has not announced whether he will run for the presidency again, recently told his supporters – in his stronghold of Siaya County, western Kenya – to expect big things ahead of the 2022 election. “We are assembling a heavy machine. Expect a political tsunami,” he said.

Will he have the votes?

Odinga supporters are confident that with this merger, they will succeed in his presidential ambitions, due to the rich basket vote from Jubilee strongholds. “If Odinga is handed the ticket, he will get a lot of voters from the areas that will make him president,” says Ngose Philip, an Odinga supporter.

Wilberforce Wanyonyi, a Jubilee and Uhuru supporter, says the two parties coming together will make his split party be at peace with the next government. “I’m happy with this political development because it will make our party form the next government.”

The disgruntling

On the other hand, some Jubilee supporters feel that there have been no proper consultations on the pre-election agreement being discussed with the opposition party.

Shem Maina, who voted for the Jubilee Party in 2013 and 2017, says he doubts if the merger will last because the majority of the members are moving with Ruto to UDA. “As members, we were never consulted; I don’t think the merge will go far,” he says.

On his part, Ruto has described the Jubilee-ODM merger as a tragedy. “They think by joining, they will defeat us, we are ahead of them, we have a hustler party, called UDA,” Ruto told his supporters during a political rally.

What about the other opposition parties?

The Wiper Democratic Movement and KANU signed a cooperation  agreement with the Jubilee Party after the 2017 election, and news of ODM and Jubilee joining hands has not been received well.

The Wiper Democratic Movement, Amani National Congress, FORD Kenya and KANU have now formed a new outfit known as the One Kenya Alliance.

‘The ODM-Jubilee merger complicates things for One Kenya Alliance, they have to sacrifice their interests, to win,” Wanyama, the political analyst, warns.

Another political heavyweight, governor Charity Ngilu, says the only way the opposition politicians can win in 2022 is to join hands and have a single candidate. “I urge the opposition leaders to work together to win the 2022 elections,” she said.

Bottom line

What is clear, with these political developments in Kenya is that, the ruling Jubilee Party is in talks with Odinga and the ODM to face off with the UDA and Ruto. Who will represent ‘Jubilee-ODM’ and the other opposition parties? That is what many Kenyans are waiting to find out.

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