From a behemoth ruling party commanding handsome majorities in both Houses of Parliament, the decline of the Jubilee Party to a fringe presence is a stunning reversal for an outfit that from inception held the promise of growing into the first political party with national reach to fill the gap left since the demise of Independence party Kanu in 2002.
Besides its poor performance in the August 9 elections, Jubilee’s fall calls into question the fate of outgoing President Uhuru Kenyatta.
He had turned it into his own political vehicle once Deputy President William Ruto walked away with the main body; and had hoped to use it not only to secure his political base in the central Kenya region at the elections but also for his continued presence and influence after leaving State House.
The results show that Jubilee was completely decimated Mt Kenya where Dr Ruto dominated the presidential vote and secured nearly all parliamentary seats through his political vehicle, the United Democratic Alliance (UDA).
Mr Kenyatta’s foot soldiers were routed in his heartland, while his contribution to the votes garnered by Azimio la Umoja coalition presidential candidate fell far below expectations.
As chair of the Azimio council—which is controlled by the two main parties in the coalition, Jubilee and Mr Raila Odinga’s Orange Democratic Movement (ODM)—Mr Kenyatta’s bargaining power in the new dispensation will be badly diminished.
Collapse mirrors others
Jubilee’s collapse actually mirrors the decline of all the previous ruling outfits since the return of the multi-party system.
Kanu was the first to go into terminal decline after its 40-year grip on power was ended in 2002 when Mwai Kibaki won the presidency flying the National Rainbow Coalition (Narc) banner.
Narc lasted just one term before President Kibaki in 2007 secured a second and final term through a newly-minted outfit, the Party of National Unity. His previous outfit was discarded.
In 2013, Mr Kenyatta won the presidency through yet another new outfit, the Jubilee coalition made up of his The National Alliance (TNA) and Dr Ruto’s United Republican Party.
As the Jubilee duo sought re-election in 2017, they formerly merged TNA and URP to form the Jubilee Party, which also brought in another dozen or so smaller parties.
Jubilee Party looked like a brilliant move. Mr Kenyatta and Dr Ruto had witnessed first-hand the squabbles, infighting and lack of unifying party structures that had bedevilled President Kibaki’s two terms through Narc and PNU.
The lesson from the Kibaki era was that special-purpose vehicles cobbled together just for winning elections were unstable by their very nature, and when they won power, contributed to a government hampered by internal feuds and power struggles, and consequently to national instability.
Mr Kenyatta and Dr Ruto had both come from Kanu, the ‘Mama na Baba’ party that assumed power at Independence in 1963, and defied the odds to survive the multi-party wave in 1992 and continued to reign for another uninterrupted decade.
Kanu thrived not only on access to state resources and administrative organs but also because it was the only party with established nationwide reach and structures.
The main parties that come to challenge its dominance with the return of multi-party, by contrast, all built around a single charismatic figure controlling an ethnic or regional base.
They included Ford Kenya of Oginga Odinga and Ford Asili of Kenneth Matiba—rival offshoots of the pioneering Forum for the Restoration of Democracy—as well as President Kibaki’s Democratic Party.
All were strong outfits that presented credible presidential candidates, but none had a life beyond the dominant personality and have all been reduced to ethnic and regional outfits, or irrelevant one-man shows.
Jubilee sought to create a Kanu-style monolith that would secure Mr Kenyatta a second term, Dr Ruto his own two terms, and continue to reign in a landscape littered with many outfits still built around one domineering personality and his impregnable such, such as Mr Odinga’s ODM.
Then it all fell apart when Mr Kenyatta and Dr Ruto’s famous bromance turned out to have been based more on infatuation and immediate pursuit of power than a compatible meeting of minds, ideas and interests.
The President dumped his DP and sought protection in the arms of his erstwhile rival, spelling the death knell for a party built on so much promise.
Once Dr Ruto lost the struggle for control of Jubilee and decamped to UDA, President Kenyatta clearly hoped to use what remained of his party as the base from which he would remain relevant.
First was to throw his weight behind Mr Odinga in the Azimio coalition presidential quest, and secondly to secure his own Mt Kenya base.
To that extent, results from the downstream elections were a disaster for Jubilee, and from Mt Kenya a brutal rejection if Mr Kenyatta did, indeed, intend to remain as the regional kingpin.
In the National Assembly, for instance, Jubilee had by Friday evening captured only 26 seats, compared to 76 for Azimio partner ODM and 101 for Dr Ruto’s UDA. It had bagged one governor and Senate seat in Isiolo.
If Mr Kenyatta intended to continue wielding influence after vacating State House, the repudiation must have been very sobering.
To add insult to injury, Mr Kenyatta was clearly intending to use Jubilee to hold on to Mt Kenya dominance, but the party was almost totally decimated in his home base, with nearly all the seats it won coming from outlying areas.
He has presided over the ignominious decline of a party that in the outgoing National Assembly had won 140 of the 290 constituency seats, 25 of the 47 woman representative seats and six of the 12 nomination slots for special interest groups for a total of 171 out of 349 seats.
This compared to ODM’s 76 seats, to which could be added the seats won by Nasa coalition partners, Mr Kalonzo Musyoka’s Wiper with 23, Mr Musalia Mudavadi’s Amani National Congress (ANC) with 14 seats and Mr Moses Wetangula’s Ford Kenya with 12 seats.
In the Senate, Jubilee in 2017 won 24 of the 47 seats. It also had eight women nominated seats and one seat each for youth and disabled, making for a total of 34 out of 67 available seats. By comparison, ODM had 20 seats, Wiper and ANC with three each and Ford K with one.
The 2013 numbers also showed Jubilee dominance, with Kenyatta’s TNA with 88 National Assembly seats and coalition partner URP of Dr Ruto with 76 for a total of 164 seats.
ODM was actually the biggest individual party with 96 seats, with partners in the then-Cord alliance—Wiper, and Ford Kenya—adding 26 and 10 seats respectively for a total of 132.
In the Senate, TNA and ODM had 17 seats each, and URP had 12 seats. While Ford Kenya had four and Wiper five.
Of all the major parties mentioned that were factors in the previous elections, it is actually only ODM, formed in 2005, that remains a viable concern when it comes to the pursuit of national leadership.
It is joined in this by Dr Ruto’s UDA, often taken as a new outfit formed only in the last few years as he transitioned from Jubilee.
However, it is actually a successor to the URP that was folded on the formation of the Jubilee Party, so it can trace its foundation at least back to the period preceding the 2013 polls.
As Jubilee goes down the drain, it joins a long list of other political parties that once called shots across Kenya but have since faded to near oblivion.
One is the former giant Kanu that Mr Kenyatta inherited from President Moi. Once he lost the 2002 election to Kibaki and then abandoned it to form TNA in the run-up to the 2013 polls, the party, left under Gideon Moi, had been reduced to a pitiable shadow of its former self.
By the latest count from the concluded elections, it had secured only three National Assembly seats and its candidates were leading in two more.
In 2017, it had 10 National Assembly seats and one Senate seat; slightly up from six National Assembly seats and three Senate seats in 2013.
Jubilee heading towards the graveyard occupied by Kanu and other once strong parties will place it in good company.
Narc, the party Mr Kibaki used to ascend to power in 2002, was abandoned once it had accomplished its mission.
It today reposes in the handbag of outgoing Kitui governor Charity Ngilu; while an offshoot, Narc Kenya, is similarly under the clutches of Mr Odinga’s presidential election running mate Martha Karua.
Before Narc, President Kibaki headed the Democratic Party on which he had made two strong presidential bids, coming third in 1992 and second in 1997, when he also became leader of the Official Opposition.
Once he successfully flew the Narc flag in 2002, he abandoned the party he founded, leaving it to shuffle around aimlessly until this year when it was acquired by National Assembly Speaker Justin Muturi as he tried to fill the vacuum in Mt Kenya leadership.
He had declared a presidential bid but eventually negotiated himself into Dr Ruto’s coalition, though he brought little to the table. Other parties in the Kenya Kwanza alliance include Mr Musalia Mudavadi’s ANC and Mr Moses Wetangula’s Ford Kenya.
The latter has an enviable history, dating back to the rebirth of multi-partyism, coming out of the 1992 election competing for the role of Official Opposition with Ford Asili.
On Oginga Odinga’s death in 1994, Ford Kenya was taken over by Mr Kijana Wamalwa, and retained a significant national presence, until a slow decline once Mr Wetang’ula took over and it limited itself to the Bukusu ethnic base in western Kenya.
The ANC, by contrast, is relatively new. It was supposed to be Mudavadi’s vehicle for a stab at national leadership but struggled to extend its wings.
Mr Mudavadi and Mr Wetang’ula declared their presidential bids but later bargained their way into Dr Ruto’s Kenya Kwanza, doing so not as national leaders but with their talks limited to bringing in the western Kenya vote from their respective sub-ethnic followings.
They recorded mixed success, but the outcome was that from the presidential vote and number of parliamentary seats won, can hardly claim unchallenged command of their own bases.
The same scenario unfolded for Mr Kalonzo Musyoka, who made loud demands before agreeing to drop his presidential bid and rejoin the Raila fold.
He at least secured a solid presidential vote for Mr Odinga and asserted his dominance in the Lower Eastern region with the number of seats won by the Wiper Party.
Going forward, it is evident that for the moment, only ODM and UDA can boast a national status.
All the other once-major parties are either in free fall, or confined to ethnic sub-regions.