The cosmopolitan Mwatate constituency has attracted a record 10 aspirants.
They fighting it out to succeed MP Andrew Mwadime who has declared interest in the governorship seat.
Deputy governor Majala Mlagui is the latest entrant and the only female politician in the race. Ms Mlagui abandoned Governor Granton Samboja to try her luck in the parliamentary seat.
A fortnight ago, Mlagui who had a frosty relationship with Samboja, met family members who gave her the nod to vie. Reports indicate she has constituted a campaign team.
Other politicians in the race are businessman Peter Shake of Jubilee Party and constitutional lawyer Morris Mbondenyi (UDA) who works at Deputy President William Ruto’s office. Ben Mgana, a former Agriculture executive in the former county administration, is also in the race.
Prof Mbondenyi and Mgana unsuccessfully contested the seat in the 2013 and 2017 elections.
In the 2017 polls, Mbondenyi was second. “This is my time now to win,” he said. Others are ODM Nominated MCA Chris Mwambingu, Mombasa County Government Finance Officer Danson Mzenge, a former Taita-Taveta County Government employee Dominic Kitando, businessman Gibson Kirubai (Independent candidate) and Mathias Mjomba of Ford Kenya.
The deputy governor and Mzenga come from the Chawia community that forms the bulk of the voters in the constituency. Observers say the could spilt the vote.
With more than 30,000 registered voters, the constituency harbours the county government headquarters and the vast Teita Sisal Estate. The constituency is also rich in minerals and also accommodates the largest part of Tsavo West National park.
Owing to its cosmopolitan nature, commentators interviewed said non-indigenous communities living in the area like the Kambas, Luos, Luhyas and Kikuyus could provide a swing vote. “We are looking for a humble, down to earth and pragmatic leader who has been participating in local development programme,” said a resident Thomas Njumwa.
“Locals are not going to vote for political parties but individuals based on their merit. Party affiliation will not be a big issue,” he told The Standard.
Njumwa said: “Different communities living in the constituency will provide a swing vote. Any politician who convinces the communities to vote as a block will carry the day.”
Also of concern to the locals are unresolved issues like the squatter menace and land tenure conflicts, hunger, water shortage and human-wildlife conflict. The voters, at the same time, said poverty and unemployment are still a challenge.
Paul Olinga, a human rights activist, said they will elect a development conscious leader.
“The constituency has the worst water and road infrastructure. We are looking for a development-oriented leader who will alleviate the suffering of the locals,” he said.
Other interviewed said financial muscle of candidates will be an added advantage. “There are those who come out of the woods only during the electioneering period and later vanish. We want to elect a people-oriented leader who has the interests of the electorate at heart,” said Olinga.
Last month, Mwatate ODM Branch delegates endorsed Mwambingu to succeed the outgoing legislator.
Mr Shake, a canon with the Anglican Church of Kenya, has been providing bursaries to needy but bright children and supporting school feeding programme targeting primary schools through his foundation.
“Education is the only inheritance to give to the children and the programmes I have initiated have given parents some relief,” he said.
“My networks will help me to adequately address pertinent issues affecting the area residents,” added Shake. Agnes Mkamburi, a voter, said said they are looking for a leader who will address the high rate of unemployment.
Meanwhile, Samboja is leaving nothing to chance in his re-election bid. The county’s first governor John Mruttu lost the seat in 2017.