Kenya’s presidential hopefuls William Ruto and Raila Odinga have a new headache trying to stem falling-out in their camps in the wake of party primaries for down-ballot seats plagued by claims of vote rigging and widespread violence.
Dr Ruto’s United Democratic Alliance (UDA) particularly had a rough day Thursday dealing with chaotic incidents at polling stations and vote tallying after aspirants and rival supporters disputed the integrity of the voters’ register and made allegations of pre-marked ballot papers and ballot stuffing.
On the eve of the UDA nominations, supporters of some parliamentary aspirants attacked a truck transporting materials to Embu County in the Mt Kenya region and set ballot boxes and ballot papers on fire over rigging claims.
The party was forced to postpone nominations in some areas but will have to conduct them by the April 22 deadline set by the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC).
It is the first time the party is holding countrywide nominations for the positions of County Governor, Member of Parliament, Senator, Woman Representative and Member of County Assembly after the Deputy President took it over last year.
Competition in Kenya’s party primaries is usually cut-throat in some areas because getting the ticket of the dominant party is as good as being elected.
The primaries for the August 9 elections are being conducted under a new law that gives political parties the option of handpicking candidates based on their perceived popularity or negotiating consensus among aspirants.
But Dr Ruto’s UDA, keen to prove its might in the former strongholds of the ruling Jubilee Party in Rift Valley and Mt Kenya regions and test its popularity in other areas, chose universal suffrage to pick the vast majority of its candidates.
Its more experienced rival, Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) led by Mr Odinga, juggled the systems in its western Kenya base, issuing direct nomination certificates in some areas and having aspirants battle it out at the ballot in others.
ODM, which has gained notoriety for chaotic nominations since 2007, also staggered its primaries this time round to avoid the logistical challenges of holding them on the same day.
But the party hasn’t fared much better, with police officers being forced to fire gunshots and lob teargas canisters to disperse aspirants and their rowdy supporters alleging rigging at a vote tallying centre in Homa Bay on Thursday.
While both Dr Ruto and Mr Odinga, the front runners in the race to succeed President Uhuru Kenyatta, have put up a brave face amid the chaos, they will no doubt be concerned about the ripple effects of the inevitable falling-out on their presidential campaigns and their parties’ parliamentary strength.
With grievances over unfair party nominations for down-ballot races linked to the low voter turnout or apathy witnessed in some regions in the past elections, the two hopefuls have their work cut out in the next three months trying to re-energise the base and get the vote out.
Close allies, nursing their wounds after losing in the nominations, may keep off the campaigns. A number can still run as independent candidates if they resign from a party by May 9 and retain a chance of turning tables on their rivals.