The gubernatorial race in Kakamega is fast gathering pace with the incumbent Wycliffe Oparanya and his main rival Senator Boni Khalwale (Ford-K) digging in for a bruising contest.
Already, Oparanya has indicated he will accept the verdict, which have the highest numbers of registered voters.
Woes facing sugarcane farmers, unemployment, poverty and education are widely seen as some of the main factors that will decide the winner from a list five contestants. Others in the race are Mable Muruli (Jubilee), Michael Osundwa (ANC) and Suleiman Sumba (Kanu).
The fact that three candidates have picked their running mates from Malava speaks volumes of their keen interest in the constituency that has close to 69,000 registered voters, according to IEBC records, followed by Lurambi at around 61,000 eligible voters.
Most of the campaigns are held daily in Kakamega town, in Lurambi constituency and also in Malava. Campaign trucks usually roam the streets of Kakamega before they head to other areas in the county.
Khalwale dances through the streets with his supporters and Isikuti dancers almost every evening after rallies in other areas.
Oparanya, Muruli and Osundwa have also picked their running mates from Malava.
While Oparanya has retained his deputy, Philip Kutima, Khalwale went for James Lusamamba, an engineer from neighbouring Lugari. Muruli has settled on former university lecturer John Marani.
Suleiman Sumba is pairing with Harry Young from Lurambi as a running mate while Mr Osundwa has chosen Caleb Sunguti.
With a population of 1.6 million people, Kakamega is one of the most populous counties in Kenya, second only to Nairobi. The county boasts of 12 constituencies and 60 wards and is perceived to be a NASA stronghold.
Oparanya has pledged to roll out free early childhood education and provide free internet services to locals if re-elected.
His administration has also started offering free education in village polytechnics.
A manifesto unveiled by the governor spells out how the county plans to absorb all students graduating from county polytechnics.
“We have since put up a polytechnic in each of the 12 constituencies,” he says.
On the other hand, Khalwale says his focus is on reviving the ailing sugar sub-sector, which forms the county’s economic backbone.
If elected, Khalwale will do away with the county askaris and in their place hire nurses and health workers to ensure locals have access to quality health care services.
He has taken a swipe at the incumbent for ignoring the health sector.
“My first assignment will be sourcing for enough funds to revive the ailing Mumias Sugar Company to make it stable again and by extension transform the county into a hub of agricultural research where farmers will be able to realise and export surplus yields.”
He has promised to give Kakamega and urban areas within the county a major facelift.
Osundwa hopes to create employment opportunities for hundreds of youths in the county.
He says young people have been left out of the current government and should be incorporated in decision-making forums.
The candidates questioned Oparanya’s commitment to help sugarcane farmers and dismissed the incumbent’s push to transfer 20 per cent of the ownership of sugar parastals from the national to county governments. He is opposed to selling of the shares to the private sector.
Khalwale says the governor is only but shedding crocodile tears to get sympathy votes.
According to him, Oparanya abetted corruption through allocation of Sh 200 million to the sugar miller which, he claims, ended up in the pockets of the governor’s cronies.
On matters regarding his re-election chances, Oparanya confessed for the first time that Khalwale was a serious challenger but downplayed speculations that chances of him retaining the seat were remote.
“Jubilee is not a major competitor in the race for the Kakamega gubernatorial seat. The division of votes in NASA is not worrying because at the end of the day, NASA will win the seat,” he said.