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Kisauni heightens NARC wrangles

After ceaseless bickering over the unfilled pre-election agreement since coming to power n December 2002 Kenya’s ruling coalition will be celebrating two years of their union of convenience this month amidst serious threats of a major fallout.
18 October 2004

The catalyst is the forthcoming by-election in the Coastal City of Mombasa that was occasioned by the of former abrasive Minister for Tourism the late Karisa Maitha, which could mark the beginning of the steady disintegration of National Rainbow Coalition (NARC) as a single entity.

Both president Mwai Kibaki’s National Alliance Party of Kenya (NAK) and the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) that operates under the direction of Roads and Public Works Minister, Raila Odinga, are spoiling to use the by-election as a proof on whom between them enjoys public support.

As it is, the sudden of Mr Maitha while on an official trip to Germany had brought to the fore, the simmering struggle between the strategic Mombasa, also known for being the hub of Kenya’s tourism industry.

Already, LDP has issued a veiled threat that it will be willing to present its own candidate for the by-election should their NAK partners unduly influence the outcome of the party primaries in their favour.

The split, if it finally comes, could seriously threaten the survival of president Kibaki’s two year old government that is also smarting from an uneasy relationship with multilateral donors over key political and economic reforms, that were promised but are yet to be implemented.

Yet, both factions are moving with caution, trying to push the other to make the first move that could definitely lead to NARC’s disintegration. While the NAK faction would like LDP- that had announced that it would go it alone in 2007- to walk out of government and live with the tag of “cowardice”

After failing to agree on the contents and the direction of the long-delayed constitutional review process both NAK and LDP have been falling over each other trying to apportion the blame on each other, hoping to use the failed constitutional review as a political weapon in 2007 elections.

Diehard NAK members have been spoiling for a war and urging president Kibaki to get rid of the rebels without much success, and the fielding of separate candidates was seen as the ultimate loyalty test. There is however no legal provision preventing LDP as a partner from fielding its own candidate.

Yet, LDP has suffered internal tension following the hesitation by both Mr Odinga and the Minister for Environment, Kalonzo Musyoka to make good of their earlier threat to field their candidate in whatever circumstances.

Notably, Mr Odinga and Mr Musyoka would not kike to be seen as the people responsible for finally the coalition and that the final stroke would rather come from their opponents in NAK

But hotheads such as the party secretary for Constitutional Affairs, Mr Otieno Kajwang, and the MP for Bahari, Joe Khamisi, maintained that the coalition is already and LDP should not be the one that is always trying to save it while their partners have already written them off.

This group feels that LDP has gained much moral grounds in the eyes of Kenyans following the blatant betrayal by their partners could have used the opportunity to sell themselves to the public.

Mr Kajwang confirmed to this writer early in the month that that there is a growing frustration among the party rank and file following a wavering position over the by-election and that “LDP might not be able to recover the lost ground should it fail to field a candidate”.

Here lies the dilemma, with moderates arguing that it would not be prudent for LDP to go it a lone because since the move can be effectively used as a propaganda weapon against Mr Odinga, who since the re-introduction of political pluralism in the early 1990s, has shifted with his supporters three times.

Despite having contributed immensely to NARC victory over Kanu in 2002, Mr Odinga’s critics-that also include his partners in the coalition-have already hatched a rider that he is a political “nomad” who hopes from one party to the other after destroying them from within.

Thus besides the stigma, the move by LDP to go it alone would escalate the acrimony within NARC over unfulfilled pre-election pact.

Mr Yusuf Abubakar, the secretary-general of the Shirikisho Party of Kenya (SPK), who hopes to benefit from the fallout within NARC, told this writer that LDP is at crossroads over Kisauni.
“While the seat was theirs for the picking given the support on the ground, some party leaders feel that they should not lose their cabinet post for the sake of a by-lection,” he said.

With continued uncertainty among the LDP leadership, there is the growing idea that the party should allow NAK to bulldoze its candidate through, but clandestinely support a candidate of another party especially from the former ruling party Kanu.

But this approach is fraught with danger since there is a possibly that the Kanu candidate might not be willing to work with LDP in parliament coupled with the fact that most leading contenders in Kanu have a negative mage among the voters who suspect some of having instigated the ethnic clashes at the Coast n 1997 that almost brought the tourism industry to its knees.

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