The ‘watermelon conundrum’

He was always bound to turn, some say. He is a changed man, others counter. No, it is all part of the plan, others argue. Well, is it?

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ISAAC SWILA

Is Wiper party leader Stephen Kalonzo Musyoka in a scheme to “hand” President Uhuru Kenyatta another five years in power? This is the question on the lips of many NASA supporters as daggers get drawn and parties ready themselves for the mother of all political battles in August this year.

According to observers, Kalonzo’s bold move last month to submit his presidential nomination papers to his Wiper Democratic Movement party, has triggered uncertainty in the National Super Alliance (Nasa), with many fearing that his mind is all but made up on going it alone.

What had been billed as a symbolic exercise to beat a regulatory deadline line as anchored in law has since turned to be an extremely large elephant in the room, with behind-the-scenes schemes, gerrymandering and late night meetings among Nasa’s four principal partners – ODM, Wiper, Amani National Congress (ANC) and Ford Kenya – gaining currency.

Though Wiper insiders insist that their party leader is in Nasa in body, heart and spirit, his body language and the utterances of his close associates tell a different story.

His backers have steadily maintained that their man will be on the ballot come what may, insisting that it is the turn of the man from Tseikuru to fly the Opposition coalition’s flag.
His backers point to the now infamous Memorandum of Understanding (MoU), signed between him and ODM boss Raila Odinga, in 2013, which allegedly implied that Raila was to serve for one term and then hand over the baton to him in 2017.

The MoU, and Wiper’s determination to go it all alone, whether real or imagined, is already causing ripples in the coalition with others questioning whether Wiper is acting on its own interests or at the behest of the ruling Jubilee.

Late last year, when ODM rolled out countrywide rallies to celebrate its party’s tenth anniversary, heightened calls came from Wiper asking the Orange party to drop its rallies and instead focus its energies on building the nascent coalition.

After that came the thorny and divisive issue of the joint nominations, which Wiper and Ford Kenya have robustly opposed.

It is, however, not lost on observers that one of the Wiper’s top leaders, Mombasa Senator Hassan Omar, who is also Wiper secretary general, has expressed interest of unseating his county Governor, ODM’s Ali Hassan Joho, and with the likelihood that one of them would miss out, the plot has thickened.

But even before the dust could settle on the shaping political duel between the two at the coast, Wiper was at it again welcoming with open arms former deputy House Speaker Farah Maalim to its fold from its coalition partner, ODM.

For ages, Maalim has been an ODM stalwart, and his decision to switch camps within the coalition has rubbed salt into the wound of the Orange party which is yet to come to terms with the determination of Wiper to challenge its supreme position in the coalition – they had the highest number of elected leaders in the parliament as well as in the Council of Governors in the last general election.

Particularly worrying the coalition is Wiper’s charm offensive at the coast, a region conceived to be an ODM stronghold.

In its recent forays, Kalonzo’s party has all been too happy to receive defectors from ODM, the latest high profile catch being the aspirant for Kwale Governor’s seat and former Kenyan ambassador to Tanzania, Ali Chirau Mwakwere.

Add this to the move by Kalonzo to present his presidential nomination papers when relations with its partners are not at their best, and you understand the magnitude of the simmering tension.

In the event that Kalonzo carries on with plans and contest the presidency outside the Nasa umbrella, it would most likely be a blessing to the Jubilee government, which might just earn another mandate by winning the 50 plus one vote in round one.

By so doing, Kalonzo would effectively put the Kamba vote under lock and key thus denying NASA approximately the 2 million Kamba votes, assuming that the rest of the candidates stick together.

In dismissing the recent Infotrak polls, which put him at more than 50 per cent behind Raila on the preferred NASA candidate, he reacted in the now too predictable manner – bitter and uncompromising.

“We know those who have commissioned these polls. They’re being cooked by Jubilee and some of our own members in Nasa, but this time we will not allow them,” he interjected.
The statement may have been made in the heat of the moment but to keen political followers, it rekindles memories of 2007 when Kalonzo parted ways with Raila and Mudavadi and ran alone on an ODM-Kenya ticket, only to agree to form a post- election coalition government with then President Mwai Kibaki, leaving a bitter taste in the mouth of the opposition luminaries as the country sank to the abyss of self-destruction from election violence.

His move then earned him the nickname “watermelon” a tag he’s unsuccessfully struggled to shed off .The recent political statements and actions of and by his close associates also point to a political vehicle ready to take its own route.

Veteran journalist Enock Wambua, who recently resigned from his senior media post with the Standard Group to take a plunge in politics, for instance, wrote a stinging opinion piece in which he argued, “If our NASA co-principal Raila Odinga is declared the coalition’s presidential candidate, Kenyans should prepare for another five years of UhuRuto.”

Whether Wambua was trying to please his party boss with the intention of boosting his chances of clinching the Kitui Senate seat, or whether his article had the blessing of the party hierarchy remains unclear but what is perplexing the coalition partners is Wiper’s willingness to stomach another five years of Jubilee than see their fellow coalition principal clinch the ticket.

But even as the apprehension continues, Makueni Senator Mutula Kilonzo Jnr, who is a strong ally to the Wiper leader, maintains that his party boss will not quit the NASA coalition.

“That (idea of quitting) is wishful thinking and creation of our opponents and Jubilee to paint our party leader in bad light,” he says.

On the thorny MoU issue, Kilonzo says, “It is unfortunate that these issues of MoU is being brought up at this time; it was a gentleman’s agreement. It is not public and should remain as such,” he asserts, adding, “Majority of the statements being made are mere speculation and those who are doing so are merely working to rock us.

“The MoU was predicated upon victory and therefore predicated on eventuality. The document is not public. I’ve not seen it and those who have known that it was informed by victory. Right now, the principals have entered into a new coalition and there is a team working on the modalities of the nomination,” Mutula told the Nairobi Law monthly.

According to Dr Tom Wolf, a Political Scientist and lead researcher at Ipsos, the issue of Kalonzo ditching NASA and running on a Wiper ticket should be put to rest.

“He (Kalonzo) has denied that he has any such intention (of wanting to ditch Nasa) so I have no reason to think he would run on his own.

“What we should be asking ourselves is whether there are circumstances on which anyone would run on their own. I have no evidence on that but these are scenarios which need to be looked at,” Wolf said.

Wolf says that by design, the Nasa principals may choose to run independently to deny Jubilee the 50 plus one vote, hence force a run-off and rally behind the candidate who qualifies for the re-run.

Wolf also offers a rather interesting dimension in the whole issue.

“According to me, the interesting questions we should be asking is what pairing would remove Jubilee from power. Others are looking at the ethnic group and others past history. There are also those who believe that with Raila having spent considerable time in prison, he should get the ticket, while yet others are also looking at the resources of the potential candidates.”

“As researchers we keep asking, what would be the impact of the pairings between Raila as the candidate and Kalonzo as his running mate, or a Kalonzo- Raila ticket, Raila-Mudavadi, Mudavadi-Kalonzo, Mudavadi–Raila, or Kalonzo-Mudavadi? When that is settled, we then need to look at what kind of tactics they would employ in their campaigns.”

Wolf however warns that with each candidate having its fanatical fan base, it should not be assumed that whoever gets the ticket would automatically have the supporters of the other candidates rallying behind him.

“We should not forget that each one of them has a line of support, but some of their supporters would be disappointed if their ultimate candidate is not nominated. When you have people who are very loyal to a particular candidate and he misses the ticket, what impact would it have on their supporters? Would they vote for Jubilee or not vote?”

Drawing comparisons to the recent US presidential elections where Republican Donald Trump defied the bookmaker’s odds and pollsters’ predictions to ascend to the presidency, Wolf says that there is likelihood of such disenfranchised supporters not voting.

“In the US, for instance, a high majority of Bernie Sanders supporters did not turn up to vote for Hillary Clinton because they felt their candidate had unfairly lost the ticket. They opted to stay at home. We could likely see a similar scenario here where either set of supporters may not vote for Jubilee but opt to kaa nyumbani.”

But with the Opposition coalition still in a conundrum on how to nominate its candidate, Wolf says that comparison between the Jubilee and Nasa presidential candidate at this point in time is uncalled for.

“Comparing Jubilee and Nasa right now is like comparing Apples and Bananas because nobody knows the Nasa candidate, or whom it’s going to be.”^

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