By Edwin Makiche
Party loyalty has towered above all other factors in the contest for Kericho County governor, with all six aspirants seeking a single party’s nomination.
William Ruto and his United Republican Party have emerged the kingmakers in the contest with every contestant striving to associate with him or his party. URP is the most popular in the region though it’s not the only.
And with the recent declaration by ODM’s Franklin Bett that he will not contest any elective position in the March 4 General Election, focus is on who will clinch the URP ticket during party primaries in two weeks’ time.
Bett, who has stuck with Prime Minister Raila Odinga’s Orange party in defiance of the Ruto and URP wave, had been expected to vie for the post but dropped out a fortnight ago. He was appointed to chair ODM’s National Elections Board.
Six aspirants are now battling it out for the URP ticket. They are former Belgut MP Charles Kirui, Prof Paul Chepkwony (a former Moi University lecturer), Sammy Chepkwony (a private sector player), a former deputy chairman of Tea Board of Kenya Jonah Keter and Joel Sigei, a career provincial administrator.
However, with Parliament reviewing the electoral law to extend the party-hopping window to January 18, it remains to be seen whether those floored during URP nominations will jump to other parties. There has been protests about whether the exercise will be free and fair.
Ruto is arguably the towering figure in the region’s politics, which is largely inhabited by the Kipsigis community, a populous sub-tribe of the Kalenjin ethnic group.
The community has been voting as a bloc, as exhibited during the 2007 elections when it overwhelmingly voted for ODM and its then presidential candidate Raila Odinga.
The rivalry between Raila and his former deputy, Ruto, is expected to influence the contest. Raila is Cord alliance presidential candidate while Ruto is running for deputy President in a joint ticket with Deputy Premier Uhuru Kenyatta (the Jubilee alliance presidential candidate).
The manner in which URP nominations will be conducted, however, remains a concern among the aspirants and by extension the populace. Initially, there were complaints some senior politicians and aspirants were keen to rig out their rivals in the nomination and were registering their supporters and locking out perceived rivals’.
Some aspirants complained despite most of their supporters registering in the party their names could not appear in the party database.
The issue, however, seems to have been addressed amicably after the party reversed its earlier requirements and resolved to use IEBC voter register during the nominations.
Political pundits, however, say the coast is not all clear for URP. They say if the party blunders during the nominations, other parties like United Democratic Movement (UDM) led by Gen (rtd) John Koech and Biwott’s National Vision Party may reap from the mess.
The race for governorship also revolves around issues such as infrastructure development, tea, job creation and the issue of the Talai community, which has been squatting in Kericho since independence.
The county is one of the leading tea producing and exporting in the country and is home to various multinational companies and other sector investors. It also has a number of tea factories managed by the Kenya Tea Development Agency.
The first county’s CEO is therefore expected to harness its agricultural potential and transform into wealth for the residents.