- Ruto on Thursday exposed his ongoing talks with Oparanya, saying they have met more than five times.
- Oparanya has, however, not rebutted the DP's remarks.
ODM leader Raila Odinga's 2022 plan is facing a litmus test with Kakamega Governor Wycliffe Oparaya — one of his key lieutenants — said to be negotiating his exit from the party.
Oparanya's exit would significantly diminish ODM's fortunes in Western Kenya, having remained the most dependable Raila ally and the senior most politician in the Orange party.
For the first time on Thursday, Deputy President William Ruto publicly stated that he is actively engaging Oparanya and insinuated a political deal is in the offing.
Oparanya who is ODM's deputy party leader has not rebutted the claims.
He did not answer his calls or respond to messages from the Star for a comment.
“I have met Wycliffe Oparanya not once but probably five times. We have discussed with him how we can work together and how he appreciates the hustler narrative and the bottom-up approach,” Ruto told Citizen TV.
If he decamps to Ruto, the move could jeopardize Raila's grip of Western Kenya— a region that has overwhelmingly backed his bid for 15 years.
It would also flip the vote-rich region into a battlefront pitting Ruto against the community's two main kingpins: Musalia Mudavadi and Moses Wetangula.
With ODM facing another threat from a section of Coast politicians pushing for a regional party, the haemorrhage could be Raila's biggest political test yet.
Ruto's revelations came just a week after he held a meeting with Oparanya at the Mahali Mzuri camp in Masaai Mara Game Reserve.
Sources said Ruto had dispatched his own chopper to pick Oparanya at his home in Kakamega.
Another meeting with Oparanya is said to have been held last Saturday at a hotel in Eldoret.
“The meeting I had with my friend Wycliffe Oparanya is an engagement we have had before. There are many leaders, not just Oparaya. Two weeks ago I met 17 other governors to discuss the future politics with them,” Ruto revealed.
He claimed that many high profile supporters of his presidency were afraid to come out publicly for fear of state crackdown and when they do "Kenyans will be shocked".
Initially, Oparanya said Raila was aware of his engagements with Ruto.
However, the Orange party has now come out publicly to state that none of its officials has been sanctioned to initiate alliance talks with anybody until after the BBI process is concluded.
“The ODM party will start serious discussions about alliances with like-minded parties after the BBI process is completed. For now the party is intact and does not face any threat of disintegration,” ODM chairman John Mbadi told the Star
He went on: “There are no alliance discussions where ODM is involved. If there is any ODM official who has met anyone else that was at a private level. We have not seen signals that the deputy party leader is about to leave ODM,” he said.
On Thursday, Ruto also dismissed the possibility of a coalition with Raila.
Western Kenya has lately experienced high stakes political combats with Musalia and Wetang'ula's One Kenya Alliance seeking to assert its influence despite aggressive forays by Ruto.
Oparanya who has been hailed for his impeccable performance record as governor has been Raila's only high-profile ally left standing in Western Kenya after Musalia and Wetang'ula divorced him.
The ex-Council of Governors chairman had also submitted nomination papers for the ODM presidential ticket alongside co-deputy party leader and Mombasa governor Hassan Joho.
However, the selection process was halted after Raila reportedly failed to submit his applications, with the National Elections Board expected to open up the window to allow the party boss to submit nomination papers.
On Thursday, Ruto dropped the bombshell saying the ODM boss remains his most formidable opponent in the next presidential contest.
“When I see Raila Odinga, I see my competitor in 2022. In fact from where I sit, Raila is the most formidable opponent that I have in 2022. If Raila will not be my competitor who will be my competitor? Then I don't know who my competitor would be,” Ruto said.
He went on: “From where I sit the two strongest forces that we have politically is the hustler team and the ODM team on the other side.”
The DP said that having previously worked with both Raila and Uhuru, he has gained a wealthy of experience about their styles of leadership, making him “understand the political game.”
Mathira MP Rigathi Gachagua insisted that Oparanya was the first one to approach the DP with the aim of joining the hustler movement but subsequent meetings were kept a secret not to expose him.
He reiterated that the governor had already boarded the Hustler Nation train and that it was a matter of time before real politics kick in.
“The meetings will continue because we want to build an all-inclusive movement with every Kenyan on board. For Oparanya, we have been meeting him for a long time since 2019,” he told the Star.
Some politicians have warned that the exit of Oparanya would send the ODM party back to the drawing board to find an alternative strategy to win the 2022 polls.
Political risk analyst Dismas Mokua told the Star that Ruto was out to deflate Raila in his Western Kenya backyard even as he is determined to make the 2022 battle a two-horse race.
“Ruto is positioning the 2022 presidential race as a two horse-race so as to minimize the impact of Rutophobia and take advantage of Railaphobia. There is evidence to suggest that if voters are given the binary choice- Raila and Ruto -Ruto will exploit the Railaphobia and secure an overwhelming victory. However, a third force will give voters choices,” Mokua said.
He said if a third force emerges in the 2022 battle, then that would shake Ruto and Raila as many voters will take a decision either to choose from the two populist politicians who suffer from phobias or go for a third choice that represent political stability and economic growth.
“Kenyans must therefore encourage a multiple candidate race where candidates will be elected on the basis of delivery rather than exploiting phobias. Voters deserve choices,” he said.
Edited by Henry Makori