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Makueni County presents political puzzle as by-election nears

By Munuhe Mwaniki | Published Sat, June 8th 2013 at 00:00, Updated June 7th 2013 at 20:47 GMT +3

By Mwaniki Munuhe

NAIROBI, KENYA: The contest for the Makueni Senate seat is turning out to be a complicated political contest for the Jubilee Alliance.

The seat fell vacant following the sudden death of the county’s Senator Mutula Kilonzo on April 27 at his home in Maanzoni, Machakos County.

Jubilee’s biggest competitor in the region is the Wiper Democratic Party whose leader, former Vice-Pesident Kalonzo Musyoka, remains in the political cold following CORD’s defeat in the March 4 presidential elections. Kalonzo has denied interest in replacing Mutula, but is under pressure to change his mind and is expected to influence what happens. Objections to him running are strong.

Yesterday, former Makueni MP Peter Kiilu told The Standard On Saturday he would run for the Senate seat as a spoiler if the former VP joins the race. He is among leaders in Ukambani who left Wiper for Jubilee/Narc and oppose a Kalonzo candidacy.

“I can assure you that I will only contest the Makueni seat if Kalonzo will be in the race,” Kiilu said. “If he does not vie, then count me out. We want leaders who can deliver us to the (Jubilee) Government. Our region cannot afford to be in the Opposition for too long. At any rate, we don’t want outsiders, Makueni has able men and women.”

Those interested in the seat include former Kilome MP John Harun Mwau, former Kibwezi MP Philip Kaloki and former Kaiti MP Gideon Ndambuki. Mwau is in CORD while Kaloki and Ndambuki are now in Jubilee.  On Thursday, Ms Kethi Kilonzo, Mutula’s daughter, indicated she would be in the race to succeed her father after initially saying she would remain in her father’s law firm. It is not clear whether the Wiper party, which Mutula served as secretary general to, will support Kethi’s bid.

Active in politics

She came to the limelight in a Supreme Court case challenging the declaration of Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto as President-elect and Deputy President-elect respectively on behalf of the Africa Centre for Open Governance.

The rush into Narc by politicians from the region hints at the influence expected from former party leader Charity Ngilu. Her inclusion in the Jubilee Cabinet as Secretary for Lands and Housing, however, presents a challenge given the pledge from the presidency that no ministers will be active in politics during their tenure. If Ngilu complies with the presidential order, she will leave Uhuru and Jubilee exposed in the Makueni by-elections.

Left out

Ben Mulwa, who ran for the Senate seat on a Narc ticket on March 4 and lost to Mutula, says Jubilee has limited chances if Ngilu is left out of campaigns.

“The Ngilu factor is very strong in this contest,” he said. “If she is not available to campaign for the Jubilee candidate, then we should know we have lost it.”

When she appeared before a parliamentary vetting committee, Ngilu was categorical she would not engage in politics while in office as Cabinet Secretary. The former Kitui Central legislator said she had resigned as Narc party leader as proof of this.

However, one Jubilee nominated Senator said he still expected Ngilu’s influence behind-the-scenes, even if she is not directly involved in the by-election campaigns. “I can tell you Ngilu will be (working) in the background to ensure Jubilee gets a win,” he said. “I am aware that arrangements have been made to have former MP Gideon Ndambuki run for the seat on a Narc ticket. Jubilee will not field any other candidate.”

Efforts to reach Kaloki and Ndambuki were unsuccessful, as their cellphones went unanswered and they did not respond to text messages sent to them.

Machakos Senator Johnstone Muthama (CORD) recently indicated Kalonzo was not interested in the Makueni senatorial seat, or indeed any seat in the Senate, saying: “He rejected the offers we made, including my own, to step down in his favour.”