PNU plots grand comeback after decade in cold

Wednesday, August 11th, 2021 00:00 |
PNU supporters attend a rally during its heyday. A relaunch of the former ruling party is being planned. Photo/PD/File

Gakuu Mathenge

Former President Mwai Kibaki’s  Party of National Unity (PNU) has announced plans to relaunch and rebrand in readiness for 2022 General Election to be held in 12 months’ time.

A series of countrywide relaunch events have been planned. The events will climax with an event in Nairobi to mark PNU’s 14th anniversary since  Kibaki launched his re-election “Kazi Iendelee” twin torch banner on 16 September 2007.

The retired President, former members of his Cabinet, senior technocrats and diplomats are among invited guests to grace the anniversary event next month.

The party headquarters has been refurbished and a new secretariat hired under the leadership of secretary general John Okemwa and chairman John Kamau.

The return of PNU is bound to re-define the Uhuru succession political activities especially in Jubilee party strongholds in Mt Kenya and the Rift Valley regions where elected officials and those aspiring to replace them are in a state of flux owing to uncertainty of the ruling party currently ravaged by factions.

In an interview at the party headquarters in Lavington, Okemwa said PNU was founded on the concept of coalition partnership with an original cast of 25 parties who came together in an alliance without dissolving or losing their identities.

“PNU is no stranger to alliances and coalitions on common agenda, including presidential elections,” he said.

To bolster Kibaki’s re-election, over two dozen political outfits held marathon delegate conferences on the same day to endorse Kibaki as their presidential candidate, but only PNU issued him with nomination papers.

Separately, the PNU partners fielded parliamentary and civic candidates in their strongholds but inside Parliament they were bound by a coalition agreement as alliance members.

This experiment of alliance partners sponsoring a joint presidential ticket, but enjoying flexibility to field other candidates in their strongholds is likely to benefit PNU as an umbrella option especially for former Jubilee partners currently scattered across small regional outfits.

“We are rebranding to nurture and preserve PNU’s historic role in contemporary Kenya history including delivery of the Kenya Constitution (2010) and Vision 2030 economic planning framework, universal and free basic education among others.

Many have fond memories of Kibaki and PNU and are happy to be associated with the brand.

Starting October, you will see aspirants in civil service and private sector technocrats also resigning to join us,” he said.

Rich legacy

About the anniversary next month he said: “We have regrouped, and are starting by honouring the memory of our founders, our leadership, their achievements and legacy.

These include PNU founding party leader, retired President Mwai Kibaki, and founding chairman and former minister for Internal security, Prof George Saitoti.

PNU founders and their legacy is part of our national heritage deserving of preservation,” Okemwa said.

Among personalities who identify themselves as “friends of PNU” and who resisted attempts to disband PNU in 2016 include Agriculture Cabinet Secretary Peter Munya, Laikipia Governor Ndiritu Muriithi and founding trustee George Nyamweya.

Among arguments then was that disbanding PNU, a former ruling party with a rich legacy, would amount to erasing its achievements and accomplishments of President Kibaki.

In an interview, Laikipia Governor Muriithi said: “Anyone attempting to disband PNU must be extremely mischievous and ignorant about national institutions of historic consequence.

In contemporary Kenya, one cannot talk about the new Constitution (2010) under the National Accord, the Vision 2030 economic growth policy framework, the national economic and social council policy think tank among others without mentioning President Mwai Kibaki. And PNU is the institutional tool he used to accomplish these and others.”

The return of the party escalates the options available to candidates and voters, especially in the Mt Kenya region where several small parties are vying for visibility.

They include the Service Party (TSP) of Mwangi Kiunjuri, the Reform and Build Kenya (RBK) recently acquired by people associated with Meru Governor Kiraitu Murungi, former Embu senator Lenny Kivuti and National Assembly Speaker Justin Muturi. 

In the absence of a dominant regional political chieftain after Uhuru Kenyatta’s retirement, Martha Karua’s Narc-Kenya party is also expected to play a significant role owing to her personal credentials and political brand, as well as opportunity to sponsor candidates in the elections.

While TSP sells itself along regional unity of Mt Kenya so as to assert the dominance of vote numbers, Kiraitu, Muturi and Kivuti have sought to frame their Uhuru-succession politics on a platform of Mt Kenya East (Meru, Embu and Tharaka Nithi counties) against Central Kenya in the supremacy contest of the region.

The intense competition for the region’s allegiance between forces loyal to Uhuru and his Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) partner Raila Odinga on one hand, and those leaning towards Deputy President William Ruto, on the other, has not made things easier for aspiring regional chieftains, including Kiunjuri, Kiraitu, Muturi and others.

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