A demand by Mount Kenya leaders to amend the constitution of the United Democratic Alliance (UDA) party to provide for a single deputy leader of the party has forced President William Ruto to postpone the planned popular elections, on Sunday Nation has established.
A meeting of the UDA national executive committee, chaired by President Ruto on Saturday, postponed the elections scheduled for December 9 to April next year.
Difficulties in registering members seeking to participate in elections, escalating infighting, fierce regional power plays and fears of apathy over reports of hostility due to the high cost of living current were also cited for the postponement.
The UDA constitution provides for three deputy party leaders – one in charge of policy and strategy, another in charge of operations while the third is responsible for party programs.
Mount Kenya politicians are reportedly pushing for an amendment to the provision to create a single deputy leader position, which they want to reserve for Vice President Rigathi Gachagua.
The meeting also decided to spread the exercise over three dates instead of taking place in a single day.
“Following a deliberative meeting of the UDA National Steering Committee chaired by party leader, President William Samoei Ruto, the party decided to postpone the elections scheduled for December 9 to April 12, 19 and 26, 2024 respectively,” said the party’s general secretary. Cléophas Malala in a press release.
“All candidates and party members are encouraged to continue to raise awareness and recruit party members.”
A UDA official who spoke off the record told the Sunday Nation that the party IS likely to convene another meeting of the National Governing Council (NGC) to amend the constitution before the elections.
“The postponement was inevitable because we had not prepared well. Registering candidates through our digital system was a challenge. The system requires candidates to upload their photos, which we believe poses a big challenge, especially in rural areas,” one of the officials said.
“Some circles are also trying to first modify the party statutes in order to clarify certain positions. Currently, the law provides for more than one deputy party leader position with which some members are not comfortable. Some also want the provisions affecting people living with disabilities to be modified. Nothing is planned for their grassroots election.
Many Mount Kenya leaders, including Nyeri Governor Mutahi Kahiga and Mathira MP Eric Mwangi, recently claimed that having more than one deputy party leader could be a broader plan to to reduce the influence of Mr. Gachagua in the 2032 succession policy.
Governor Kahiga said the position of deputy leader of the party should be reserved for DP Gachagua and the post of general secretary should be given to a Mount Kenya leader.
“There must be a party leader and a deputy party leader. The rest can be whatever they want…” he said on Sunday.
Mr Mwangi made similar remarks.
“We have only one president who is the leader of the party and one vice president who should be the only deputy leader of the party,” the Mathira MP said.
The demand to reserve the position for Mr Gachagua was triggered by remarks by Senate Majority Leader Boni Khalwale after he asked the DP to prepare for a Western Region takeover of the State House at the end of Ruto’s presidency.
Western Kenya MPs favor an expanded party structure, with Dr Khalwale proposed to take one of the seats.
“Mr. Gachagua should listen to me.” Whether he likes it or not, 2032 is the time for a Luhya presidency. Just like President Ruto succeeded Uhuru Kenyatta, so will it be when a Luhya inherits President Ruto,” Dr Khalwale said.
There is also a list of aspiring leaders drawn from the Ukambani and Lower East regions.
According to Kitui East MP Nimrod Mbai, leaders in the region are working on a coalition of candidates to guarantee them victory in the elections.
If their strategy works, Mbai said she could see the coalition partners fielding Embu governor Cecily Mbarire as party president and Mwala MP Vincent Musyoka as national organizing secretary.
Mr Mbai will be running for party chairmanship in Kitui County.
Despite all these obstacles, an MP who requested anonymity told the Sunday Nation that his members also had problems with voters because of the tax measures introduced by President Ruto.
The lawmaker said the registration of those seeking to contest for different seats has been low due to the high fees required.
“I don’t even think it will happen in April. Ask all elected officials. We are having difficulty engaging UDA supporters. Some party officials cannot go to the field,” the lawmaker said.
“Many people feel that we and the party have betrayed them…”