Running mate choice DP Ruto's acid test in bid to woo Mt Kenya votes
Deputy President William Ruto is facing perhaps the toughest challenge of his political career regarding his choice of a strategic and strong running mate whom he has confirmed he will pick from Mt Kenya to bolster his presidential bid in 2022.
On Saturday, Mr Ruto, in a meeting with his allies from Mt Kenya, asked for more time to consult and narrow down on possible candidates from the region for discussion.
Apart from the Rift Valley, the six-million-strong Mount Kenya region voting bloc was President Kenyatta and DP Ruto’s political bedrock in the 2013 and 2017 elections which propelled them to power.
A team of bureaucrats, as well as senior advisers of the DP have been burning the midnight oil in search of a viable and acceptable candidate who will then be gradually propped up, the Nation has learnt.
Behind the tightly-knit plan, those working with Mr Ruto say it is a tough balancing act for Mount Kenya, bearing in mind its voters' numerical strength.
Read: 2022 running mate machinations in Mt Kenya rock Ruto camp
Dr Ruto and his handlers had identified The Service Party leader Mwangi Kiunjuri, governors Anne Waiguru (Kirinyaga), Mwangi wa Iria (Murang’a), Kiraitu Murungi (Meru) and Tharaka Nithi senator Kindiki Kithure, National Assembly Speaker Justin Muturi and Mathira MP Rigathi Gachagua as possible running mates.
But reliable sources indicate after the Saturday meeting, it appears the net has been cast wider to include the likes of Agriculture Cabinet Secretary Peter Munya and former Gatanga MP Peter Kenneth.
It is not clear whether Mr Murungi and Mr Munya, a Ruto political opponent, would abandon their bid for a second term as Meru governor and be Mr Ruto’s running mate.
Mr Wa Iria and Mr Muturi, on the other hand, have their eyes cast on contesting the presidency in 2022, and are thus possible rivals of the DP.
Read: Kiraitu likely to be Ruto’s running mate
Mr Kenneth and Ms Waiguru’s names have also featured prominently in political circles as some of those considered for the running mate position by ODM Leader Raila Odinga should he officially announce his bid.
The handling of the burning issue of a running mate and other campaign matters indicate Mr Ruto is fishing for a strong political partner who can power his candidature and deliver votes that can guarantee victory.
Murang’a Senator Irungu Kang’ata, while admitting the deputy president position issue is thorny, said: “The process of picking a running mate should be people-driven, where locals will have a say on who has the national stature to deputise Dr Ruto.”
Mr Kiunjuri said he has not requested any presidential candidate to pick him as a deputy.
“I am not running for the presidential seat and neither have I requested anyone to offer me the deputy president position. My party has the capacity to serve Kenyans,” Mr Kiunjuri said at a burial ceremony in Jua Kali village, Laikipia North.
Yesterday, Narc Kenya party leader Martha Karua suggested that a running mate position for Mt Kenya would top the wish list of leaders from the region to all presidential candidates.
“We are committed to multi-partyism. No one is being told to leave their party unless they so wish. We want the entire Mt Kenya leadership to be present in our next meeting as we deliberate on the issues that will be on our wish list to any candidate seeking Kenya’s presidency because ours is unity of purpose as a region,” she said in Nairobi.
And Ms Waiguru said anyone intending to win the presidency should have a woman as a running mate, especially after the flopping of the Building Bridges Initiative, which had a raft of provisions to ensure effective women’s participation in politics and national leadership.
“2022 will be a game changer. The person with a female running mate will be at a greater advantage or will probably win, than those with men as deputies. Voters are not looking for alternatives, even in politics and gender is one of those significant game changers,” the Kirinyaga county boss told KTN news in an interview.
In the event the DP fails to get a ‘strong’ running mate from Mt Kenya, he is likely to turn to western, Coast, North Eastern and other areas he has been frequenting.
How Dr Ruto will deal with other politicians from other regions who have always stood by him is keenly being watched by analysts who agree that the collapsed BBI now sends Mt Kenya region to lobby for the second-in-command position in the 2022 presidential succession.
"With President Kenyatta retiring and Mr Ruto homing in strongly a year to the poll, the president appearing as reported to be favouring Raila Odinga to succeed him, it means that the numerical strength of Mt Kenya makes it the favoured booster to a win," said Prof Ngugi Njoroge, a political analyst.
He said: “So far, it appears bad advice to go for the presidency since times and circumstances do not favour such a choice.”
Prof Njoroge added Mt Kenya must strive to shed the image of “presidential contest colony that seeks to dominate the high office and also that it is not true that area voters are tribal and cannot vote for another candidate.”
In such a political fix, he said, Mt Kenya is left with no other viable option to pitch for a running mate position but negotiate for the general power-sharing formula commensurate with its numbers.
Additional reporting by James Murimi, Mwangi Muiruri