By Stephen Makabila
CORD leader Raila Odinga and his brigade will this week kick off campaigns in Bungoma County to help erstwhile Senator Moses Wetangula recapture the seat.
Although the official campaign period will start on Thursday, CORD and Amani coalitions have already hit the campaign trail.
Sources in CORD say they are taking the battle seriously, although Wetangula will be riding on the incumbency card and his rivals’ disjointed campaigns.
Amani leaders Musalia Mudavadi and former Justice Minister Eugene Wamalwa have been pushing for the election of former Cabinet Minister Musikari Kombo, who successfully petitioned Wetangula’s election.
Journalist David Makali, who is running as an independent candidate, said: “ We are ready for the contest and I will be presenting my nomination papers on Friday. I am running on a platform of fresh, independent and untainted leadership ready to give the county practical ideas for socio-economic transformation.”
The three candidates — Wetangula, Kombo and Makali yesterday met the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) County Returning Officer to raise any issues they want dealt with by the commission. The county has been hit by insecurity in the recent past as unofficial campaign continued.
Raila’s entry into the CORD campaigns and the political capital he brings is expected to energise the campaigns. “CORD is headed for a landslide victory in the Bungoma by-election come December 19,” declared Raila yesterday.
So far, Wetangula has been conducting own campaigns, meeting leaders from Mt Elgon and other regions to drum up support for his bid. CORD is now emboldened by a High Court decree on Wednesday that Wetangula, the Ford-Kenya party leader and immediate former Senate Minority Leader, has a constitutional right to defend his seat.
CORD therefore enters the crucial official campaign stage knowing the Bungoma contest has a bearing on its strength as an official Opposition.
“The voters here remain convinced that they voted for the right party and the right candidate on March 4 and they are keen to prove what they did in March was not an accident,” Raila told The Standard on Sunday in an interview.
But Kombo noted: “What I did for the people of Bungoma from roads development, improvement of markets and establishment of a Medical Training College in Webuye can be seen and I am confident of victory.”
On Thursday, Raila accompanied by co-principals Kalonzo Musyoka and Wetangula will make a grand entry into the county to officially launch the coalition’s campaigns after presentation of Wetangula’s nomination Papers to the Independent Electoral and Boundary Commission. That means there will be two parallel rallies in Bungoma on Thursday, since Kombo has equally planned another rally.
“I am deeply in Wetangula’s campaign even right now. I will be in Bungoma when Wetangula is presenting his papers on November 21 and after that, it will be a fully fledged CORD backing for Wetangula,” said Raila.
He was also optimistic that CORD will execute its campaign plans successfully to ensure that Wetangula remains its Minority Leader in the Senate.
He said: “Wetangula is our Leader of Minority. He has done a wonderful job and I am confident he will be more energised after
this by-election.” Raila asked the IEBC to conduct free and fair elections because: “It has a duty to do so and we expect nothing less.”
Mudavadi has already demanded that IEBC officials who served in the last polls in Bungoma County be transferred ahead of the by-elections.
Mudavadi argued that the credibility of the officials, some who appeared before the courts and admitted errors were committed under their watch, was dented, and they therefore cannot be relied upon to oversee the coming mini-polls.
“The officials must be transferred as some of them were found to have abetted serious election irregularities that subsequently led to the nullification of the Bungoma senatorial election,” said Mudavadi while on the campaign trail in Webuye.
But Raila dismissed Mudavadi’s call saying: “Amani is a confused and confusing coalition. If Amani cannot field a candidate even in Western Kenya, it has no business claiming to be relevant in this election.”
“Do you think TNA would back an Amani candidate in Central Province? Or would URP back Amani in Rift Valley?” asked Raila, who warned Amani against wasting time.
But Kombo yesterday told The Standard on Sunday: “It’s the IEBC officials who messed up the election last time. We still strongly maintain that IEBC officers in areas that experienced glaring malpractices be transferred and replaced.”
Makali on his part said: “I am optimistic the election will be fair and free of intimidation and manipulation by IEBC. On Thursday, my campaign manager was subjected to some politically-instigated harassment for allegedly driving a stolen car, yet the car was bought through a local bank.”
Raila has maintained his CORD coalition was also confident of winning in other by-elections in Kisii and Coast region.
“We have a plan and we are executing it. We are not doing anything by accident,” said Raila.
In Bungoma, Ford-Kenya National Organising Secretary Chris Mandu said plans had been finalised for Wetangula’s campaign launch at Bungoma’s Masinde Muliro Stadium. He said the campaign team is headed by Kanduyi MP Wafula Wamunyinyi, who is the Chief Co-ordinator. The strongest opposition to CORD is posed by Kombo and Makali. It is so far not clear if former Assistant minister Wakoli Bifwoli who had promised to run on a Labour party ticket under the symbol eng’eniesi (the Star) is in the race.
Kombo said he will present his nomination papers to IEBC on Thursday. “I have been cleared by the local police to thereafter hold a public rally at Posta Grounds the same day, before embarking on campaigns from constituency to constituency,” added Kombo.
Makali added: “I will present my papers on Friday, followed by two rallies, one in town and another outside town, and later roadshows around the county.”
Makali went on: “ I am a resident of Bungoma town, and I will let outsiders present their papers first, in the spirit of hospitality.”
Already, political temperatures are rising with Wetangula having told Mudavadi to keep off Bungoma politics and allow local voters elect a Senator of their choice. But in a rejoinder, New Ford Kenya Secretary-General Canon Benjamin Mwema said Mudavadi has the right of visiting Bungoma to back Kombo.
“Why should Wetangula worry about Mudavadi when other leaders from outside the county like Cyrus Jirongo, Kenneth Marende and Dr Bonny Khalwale have been visiting to support him?” posed Mwema.
When he was officially nominated by Ford-Kenya and CORD to run for the seat at Kanduyi stadium in Bungoma, Wetangula told thousands of his supporters that his return to Senate had begun.
And while receiving NFK National Organising Secretary Juma Mukhwana who has since defected to Ford-Kenya, Wetangula said: “Give me this chance to recapture my seat because, while I stand for the interests and unity of the entire Luhya community, my opponents are only being prodded on by outside forces and they are set to advance the same interests that sponsored them.” But NFK Party Leader Eugene Wamalwa maintained the party had officially settled on Kombo and will outline its campaign roadmap after handing him the nomination certificate on Tuesday. “After November 19, we are going to intensify our campaigns and reveal more on why Bungoma voters should vote form Kombo,” said Wamalwa.
Mwema said the Kombo campaign team had settled on Bungoma county women representative Reginalda Wanyonyi as its Chief Campaign Co-ordinator.
Wamalwa told The Standard on Sunday: “ I do not think the contest is a CORD versus Jubilee but a CORD versus Amani coalition.”