The nullification of the election of Nandi Hills MP Alfred Keter has set the stage for a potentially explosive political contest in Deputy President William Ruto's backyard.
Keter’s victory was yesterday invalidated by the High Court in Eldoret on grounds that he had campaigned beyond the scheduled period.
"The petitioner has partially proven to acceptable standards that the election was not conducted according to the Constitution and election laws. This is a deduction that the respondent was not validly elected as member of National Assembly for Nandi Hills," ruled Justice Kanyi Kimondo.
But the MP, who has fallen out with his Jubilee Party that sponsored him to Parliament, went on the offensive, indicating that he might not run on the ruling party's ticket in the mini-poll.
His supporters jammed the streets, chanting "No Keter! No Ruto!" referring to the DP, who is Jubilee Party's deputy party leader.
The MP declared that he would chart his political future.
“The journey has just begun. We might even be denied the Jubilee ticket. I know that I will not be given the ticket. But I will announce the way forward,” said Keter, who must now make a decision to either jump ship and face off with a Jubilee-backed candidate or stick with the party and risk losing the ticket in the party primaries.
“We must drink the beer that we brewed in 2017. If not, we will break the pot,” vowed Keter, who spoke in the company of Emurua Dikirr MP Johana Ng’eno and his Moiben counterpart, Silas Tiren.
The three are among leaders in the region who have accused Jubilee of trying to intimidate ‘independent-minded' leaders and failing to fulfil its promises to the electorate.
“We cannot be intimidated because the truth cannot be hidden. The war of Armageddon has just begun. We are going to speak to the people. We cannot accept to be crucified. We will stand with the truth,” said Mr Ng’eno, who said this week’s nullification of Kangogo Bowen’s election as Marakwet East MP was regrettable.
The case against Keter had been filed by Bernard Kitur, an independent candidate, who took over the case after the initial petitioner, Robert Kemei, withdrew.
Kitur presented in court a photo of Keter allegedly addressing voters in Labuiywo area long after the campaign period had closed.
In his defence, Keter acknowledged having toured the areas the petitioner alleged, but denied that he was soliciting votes.
"I have a constitutional right to move around and the elections are not supposed to alter my movements. I visited a constituent in Ainapngetuny who had helped me implement some projects on August 6 and never campaigned," said Keter.
In his verdict, Justice Kimondo defined a campaign as an organised programme to win elections, saying Keter had indeed campaigned by addressing the people in different locations.
“Keter was moving around, not as a private citizen but as a politician. His movement was a poorly disguised campaign. He did not need to have a public address system or necessarily talk about votes to be seen as campaigning," said the judge.
The political drama in the region has been shaping up since Keter, Tiren, and Bowen were removed from the helm of key House committees last month. The three had defied the resolutions of a party parliamentary group meeting chaired by President Uhuru Kenyatta and Ruto that had agreed on a preferred line-up of committee leaders. The party leadership instigated a vote of no confidence in the committees to oust them.
Soon afterwards, Keter was arrested for allegedly presenting fake Treasury bills at the Central Bank of Kenya.
In 2015, Keter found himself in trouble after he was captured on camera threatening and insulting officers manning the Gilgil weigh bridge along the Nakuru-Nairobi highway. The MP, in the company of a nominated colleague, were accused of using the President’s name to have an impounded lorry released by the officers.
The MP was later charged with causing a public disturbance and threatening public officers. He denied the charges in a Naivasha court.
Keter has blamed forces within Jubilee for his woes.
Should he decide to jump ship, he could form his own party, run as an independent candidate, or join one of the existing political parties.
The former MP could once again find himself battling it out with, among others, Ruto's personal assistant, Emmanuel Tallam, who lost in the Jubilee primaries in the last election.
Cherangany MP Joshua Kutuny said the ruling against Keter was 'surprising' but asked him to stick with the party.
“The grounds of the case appear to be very weak. The ruling is a bit surprising but we do not want to make conclusions. But I would persuade my friends to stick with the party. That is how you can justify what you have been standing for,” he said.
Oscar Sudi (Kapseret) said Keter and his group should not rush to blame the DP for their woes.
“They know very clearly that it is not the DP behind their woes. This was a court process and they should have kept quiet instead of blame games,” he said.
In Nandi Hills, clashes broke out between Keter's supporters and a group of youth allied to the petitioner, forcing Keter to cut short his address to residents.