New twist as candidate pulls out of Migori senatorial by-election

Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) candidate Ochilo Ayacko. [File, Standard]

The fight for the Migori Senate seat took a new turn after a candidate withdrew from the race, with only a week to the by-election.

Solomon Hodo, who was running on People Democratic Party (PDP) ticket, said he would support one of the front runners - businessman Eddy Oketch of the Federal Party of Kenya.

Mr Hodo’s decision now bolsters Oketch’s fight to clinch the seat, and has forced the Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) candidate Ochillo Ayacko back to the drawing board.

Hodo is from the Kuria community, whose leaders have declared support for Mr Oketch.

Three days ago, the two MPs from the community - Thomas Robi (Kuria West) and Marwa Kitayama (Kuria East) broke away from their Jubilee Party's resolve to support Mr Ayacko and rallied behind Oketch.

Jubilee Secretary General Raphael Tuju had announced during the burial of former area Senator Ben Oluoch Okello that they would support Ayacko.

Kuria leaders, however, said after wide consultations with the community elders, they had decided to support Oketch, who finished second after Okello in the 2017 elections.

“I believe Mr Oketch is the right candidate for this seat, and I urge voters across Migori to vote for him. I decided to support him after wide consultation," said Hodo.

His decision to support Oketch is likely to complicate things for Ayacko, as the former was the only candidate from the larger Kuria region.

The development has been seen as a plan by Oketch’s strategists to block Ayacko from getting votes from the Kuria, who have more than a quarter of voters in the border county.

"Kuria is totally in Jubilee. We cannot vote for ODM. We would rather vote for another party but ODM. As Kuria, we have decided it is Oketch Eddy," said Robi.

The position taken by the Kuria leaders has stirred the ODM camp, which has now upped its campaigns as it fights to retain the seat.

The party has planned high-profile campaigns that will also rope in party leader Raila Odinga and several other politicians.

Already, party secretary general Edwin Sifuna, Siaya Senator James Orengo and a host of MPs have pitched camp in Migori ahead of the elections slated for October 8.

Deliver votes

Ayacko is, on the other hand, banking on nominated MP Dennitah Ghati, former county Executive Maneno Mwikwabe and ODM activist John Magaiwa, all who hail from Kuria, to campaign and deliver the Kuria vote.

Meanwhile, attempts by ODM leaders to use the murder case facing Migori Governor Okoth Obado in the campaign backfired after they were heckled at a campaign rally on Saturday.

Before his arrest and arraignment in court over the murder of university student Sharon Otieno, Mr Obado broke ranks with ODM and declared as “fraud” the direct nomination of Ayako.

He vowed to campaign against Ayacko. He, however, will miss the campaigns after he was denied bail. His case will be mentioned on October 8, the same day the by-elections will be held.

On Saturday, ODM leaders were driven out of Suna West by youths who accused them of dragging Obado’s name in the campaigns.

Some of the ODM leaders had told voters to reject Oketch, who they said was being supported by Obado.

But the youth, led by Victor Otieno, said they were tired of campaigns full of propaganda without good agenda for them.

“We fail to understand how the issue of Governor Obado, who is in custody, comes in these campaigns,” said Mr Otieno.

“We don’t want people from outside the county to come here and bring chaos. Let them tell us why they want us to vote for the ODM candidate but not to speak on the issue of Obado all the time during their campaign,” he added.

All MPs from Migori, save for two from Kuria sub-county - Marwa Kiyama (Kuria East) and Mathias Robi (Kuria West), are supporting Ayacko.

The two Jubilee MPs have been traversing the county campaigning for  Oketch.

"The ground has changed. Mr Oketch has the numbers and will win this election," Kitayama told voters during a campaign in Awendo last week.

The Standard has learnt that Mr Obado's political allies have joined Oketch's campaign team and are hoping to turn tables on Ayacko. Besides the two MPs, politicians allied to the governor are now campaigning for Oketch.

Using propaganda

Yesterday, Oketch told The Standard he was confident of winning the seat and accused ODM officials of using propaganda to sway voters.

ODM leaders also exuded confidence of retaining the seat.

Odinga is expected in Migori next week to drum up support for Ayacko.

The Standard established that Raila, who is keen to see ODM win back the seat, is set to lead a high-powered ODM team to the campaigns.

Currently, Migori MPs Junet Mohammed (Suna East), Paul Abuor (Rongo), Woman Rep Pamela Odhiambo and Tom Odege (Nyatike), are leading Ayacko campaigns.