August 18th 2017

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Kiraitu, Munya rivalry and the implications for Uhuru's re-election campaign in Meru

Jubilee top leaders recognise that Mr Munya is capable of upending the president's re-election strategy due to his combative politics and influence in Meru, which is believed to be stronger than that enjoyed by current Meru senator Kiraitu Murungi, who is Jubilee's ally against Munya.

By Free Press Correspondentnewsdesk@kenyafreepress.comSunday, 30 Oct 2016 19:05 EAT

Governor Peter Munya (right) addressing PNU party members last Friday. On his left is party secretary general John Okemwa.

Meru Governor Peter Munya's rejuvenation of the Party of National Unity (PNU) as his vehicle for re-election in 2017 and planned presidential bid in 2022 has been met with fierce opposition from members of the Jubilee government. President Uhuru Kenyatta's inner circle believes the governor poses a threat to his consolidation of the Mt Kenya bloc at a time the president is being assailed in key swing vote regions like Maasailand, Coast and Kisiiland.

According to an analyst familiar with the thinking among Jubilee top leaders, Mr Munya is capable of upending the president's re-election strategy of consolidating the Mt Kenya vote, which he got almost to a man in 2013, due to the governor's combative politics and influence in Meru, which is believed to be stronger than that of Meru senator Kiraitu Murungi, who is expected to fly Jubilee's flag against Munya in 2017.

Munya and Kiraitu were allies in 2013, when both ran on the ticket of the Alliance Party of Kenya (APK) against an onslaught by President Uhuru's The National Alliance (TNA). Weeks to the election, however, the president made a u-turn and endorsed Kiraitu for the senate seat while campaigning hard against Munya. TNA withdrew its candidate against Kiraitu, but the one against Munya (former assistant minister for education Kilemi Mwiria) was provided with substantial resources to beat the mercurial governor who even then could not be completely trusted to toe the pro-Uhuru line.

As fate would have it, Munya prevailed in the end, and his alliance with Kiraitu crumbled due to suspicions about the "double-dealing" the former energy minister employed in the election. As the party leader of APK, Kiraitu teamed up with Jubilee in the Senate and national politics, his positions diverging gradually from Munya's on such hotly-debated issues as corruption, role of governors and the on-and-off efforts by various groups to reform the constitution and empower county governments.

In the run-up to next elections, Mr Mwiria, who was appointed to a government job as presidential adviser on education, has nominally lost his interest in the gubernatorial seat, while Kiaritu - who has deep pockets and greater name recognition - has emerged at the Jubilee candidate against Munya. Top Jubilee leaders see Munya, who has used his governorship to establish patronage systems, as a threat on his own in Meru and the neighbouring Tharaka Nithi County, and also fear that he could, as a preeminent Meru leader, link up with other coalitions nationally.

Munya's takeover of PNU was a hard-fought process, with party officials allied to Jubilee determined to dissolve the party as part of the new Jubilee Party - a dispute that was only resolved by the Political Parties Tribunal. John Kamama (chairman) pushed for the dissolution of the party but lost to John Okemwa (secretary general) who championed Munya's takeover of the party.

According to local pundits, Kiraitu's popularity has dwindled considerably since his fallout with Munya. Jotham Kirimi, who supports the governor, said, "Munya is a movement, unstoppable and focused. 2017 will be a walkover and one of the easiest election for our governor." Still, Kiraitu has taken Munya head-on, with government supporters giving him more prominence as a means of leveraging his national credentials. Kiraitu and former cabinet minister Noah Wekesa led the formation of Jubilee Party as co-chairmen.

The government's campaign against Munya has gained new urgency since his launch of PNU on Friday last week. In a rare immersion into local Meru politics, the cabinet secretary for devolution and planning, Mwangi Kiunjuri, addressed the Munya question directly yesterday, saying the revival of PNU was a threat to President Uhuru's re-election.

Speaking during the funeral service for Peter Karaine, the father of his personal assistant Patricia Muthoni, Mr Kiunjuri said the governor had defected to the opposition. “If you are not with the President, then you are automatically on the side of Raila Odinga,” Mr Kiunjuri said. This was a rejection of the governor's position stated when he took over the party a day earlier.

On Friday, Mr Munya had made it clear that he would support Uhuru's re-election. His difference with other Jubilee leaders, he said, was that he would not join the Jubilee Party and also not support Uhuru's deputy William Ruto for the presidency in 2022, as he would be running for that office himself.

“You cannot claim to support the President yet you are fighting his close friend and deputy president. Do not cheat us that your party will support the president,” Mr Kiunjuri said. An MP who accompanied the minister, Mutahi Kimaru of Laikipia East, let the cat out of the bag by saying that Mr Munya’s revival of PNU was a sign that he was fearing Jubilee Party nomination against Kiraitu.

“We know Mr Munya is in Jubilee. He joined PNU because he is afraid of facing Senator Kiraitu Murungi. Running away from the Jubilee nominations is like postponing death,” the MP said. Both leaders asked Meru people to vote only for Jubilee Party candidates in the 2017 elections, a shorthand for Kiraitu.

Mr Munya is understood to have made a line-up of his allies in all the key regional seats. He has also reached out to Tharaka Nithi governor Samuel Ragwa, who just recently rescinded his announcement that he would defect from Jubilee.

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