By Justus Wanga
The Kericho senatorial by-election has been billed as a referendum on Deputy President William Ruto’s three years in office against a swelling wave of opposition in the South Rift region.
When voters pick who between JAP’s Aaron Cheruiyot and Kanu’s Paul Sang will be their next senator on Monday, it will not just be about the two individuals, but about Mr Ruto, who must win the seat through the JAP candidate to stamp his authority on the troubled region that is threatening to slip away from his hands.
Mr Ruto’s sentiments that those from his URP drumming up support for the rival candidate are out to stop him from succeeding President Uhuru Kenyatta in 2022 aptly capture the significance of the by-election.
For a decade now, Rift Valley politics has centred on Mr Ruto. The high number of campaign trips he has made, starting last month, is further demonstration of the premium he attaches to the Kericho seat.
Ordinarily, Mr Ruto would not have been struggling to retain a seat formerly occupied by one of his foremost lieutenants in Kipsigis land, Mr Charles Keter, now Energy Cabinet Secretary.
WAVE OF OPPOSITION
But there is a strong wave of opposition led by the feisty Bomet Governor, Mr Isaac Ruto (URP) and Kanu chairman and Baringo Senator Gideon Moi.
The poll outcome will either weaken or give the DP more latitude to flex his muscles.
Likewise, a loss for Jubilee in Malindi, with opinion polls seemingly indicating so, would send a chilling signal to the ruling coalition that the opposition still has a grip on its key strongholds.
This is especially so after ODM retained the Kajiado Central seat last year against a well-oiled government juggernaut.
A win would be a dividend for Mr Kenyatta’s month-long stay at the Coast in the New Year when he sought to lure the region to his fold.
This would send the opposition to the drawing board as its traditional base would be seen to be drifting away.
Jubilee is relying on renegade ODM MP Gideon Mung’aro (Kilifi North) to marshal support for Mr Philip Charo against the opposition’s William Mtengo.
The other candidates in the race are Reuben Katana (Kadu Asili), David Mangi (Shirikisho) and Attas Sharrif (Labour Party).
Seven candidates were cleared by the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission but Mr Peter Ponda of Chama Cha Uzalendo (CCU) has since withdrawn from the race, throwing his support behind Mr Charo.
Mr Nelson Gunga of the Federal Party of Kenya is campaigning for Mr Katana.
Those close to the DP say he sees Malindi as his forte and is keen to pull the carpet from under ODM’s feet. This would give him the requisite momentum for next year’s elections.
Speaking to the Sunday Nation from Malindi, Nairobi Senator Mike Sonko exuded confidence that victory is on their side, both in Malindi and Kericho.
“The locals here want change. They are tired of being in the opposition and most of them have assured me they will vote JAP on Monday,” he said.
It is understood that Senator Sonko was sent to Malindi three weeks ago to shore up support for the JAP candidate because of his ties to the region.
He dismissed as insincere claims by ODM that Jubilee had deployed State resources to get undue advantage on the campaign trail.
It also emerged that Jubilee had resorted to door-to-door mobilisation.
ODM director of campaigns Junet Mohamed said: “We have gone round every hamlet of Malindi and our comrades have made up their minds that Mtengo is the man”.
Mining Cabinet Secretary Dan Kazungu held the seat on an Orange party ticket prior to his appointment.
On realising that the sacking of National Oil Corporation managing director Sumayya Hassan-Athman, who hails from the area, would backfire, Mr Ruto hastily rescinded it.
Through his press secretary, Mr Emmanuel Talam, Mr Ruto acknowledges that the two by-elections are very significant to both Jubilee and the opposition.
“They present an opportunity for the two to gauge their popularity ahead of next year’s election. ODM is putting up a spirited fight in Malindi. And in Kericho, Kanu and its allies are testing the waters,” he said.
But Kanu Secretary-General Nick Salat said the only way Jubilee can win is by rigging the polls. “The seat is ours to lose,” he said.
Governor Ruto says that this being a protest vote, they are looking to continue their humiliation of Jubilee as part of a build-up of the Nyangores Ward by-election where Mr Andrew Maritim of the People’s Patriotic Party of Kenya (PPPK), associated with him, trounced JAP’s Richard Leitich.
He said a win for Kanu would have a direct bearing on the political inclination of neighbouring counties like Bomet, Nandi, Nakuru and Narok.
Meanwhile, the Kericho poll offers a rare moment for the overt involvement of trade unions in Kenya’s politics, after Kenya National Union of Teachers Secretary-General Wilson Sossion endorsed Mr Sang.
President Kenyatta has been away during the home stretch of the two campaigns. He is currently attending independence celebrations in Accra, Ghana.
Source: All Africa