The Migori governorship race is gaining momentum as nine candidates fight it out in the battle to succeed Governor Okoth Obado.
Seasoned politicians who include former Rongo MP Dalmas Otieno, former Migori MP John Pesa and Senator Ochilo Ayacko will face off together with six new entrants.
Others include businessman Philip Mwabe, Speaker Boaz Okoth, former Water and Energy Executive Rebecca Maroa, businesswoman Jane Moronge, businessman Owiso Ngao and Byron Oginga who is a monitoring and evaluation consultant.
Dalmas is vying on a Jubilee Party ticket, Ayacko (ODM), Pesa (DAP-K), Mwabe (independent), Okoth (independent), Maroa (UDA), Moronge (UPIA) Ngao (independent) and Oginga on Liberal Democratic Party (LDP).
The nine candidates, having been cleared by electoral commission, have rolled up their sleeves and are rallying residents to back their bids, each claiming to have the experience to transform the county.
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The struggling sugar, fishing industry, mining sub-sectors are at the core of their campaign messaging as they intensify their bids to impress voters.
In the contest where Jubilee, DAP-K and UDA have all fielded candidates, Raila Odinga’s ODM party is facing a tough challenge to retain the seat in an area perceived to be its base. Jubilee, DAP-K and ODM are in Raila’s Azimio la Umoja.
In 2013, the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), TNA and ODM battled for the Migori governorship in which Obado delivered a surprise win to PDP and was the only governor in the entire region to defy the ODM wave. Obado has widely been seen to be a political thorn in Raila’s flesh.
In that poll, Obado garnered 132,680 votes against ODM’s Edward Akongo’s 115,270. According to political analyst Nick Oluoch, ODM which is dominant in the region may have a slight advantage in the coming elections.
However, he says Migori residents do not usually follow parties. “ODM is the favourite but the local voters do not always follow the party wave,” Oluoch said. For him, the Kuria community swing vote and sharing of positions among leaders will determine who wins the seat.
Observers, however, see Dalmas, Ayacko and Pesa as the frontrunners. Three are giving each other a run for their money.
In an interview with The Standard, Ayacko said Migori residents deserve better leadership, services and more opportunities. He says he fits the bill.
“It is my duty to walk and work together with the people of Migori. My tenure will focus on rooting out corruption,” Ayacko, a former Cabinet minister, said.
According to the Senator, his government will stimulate agriculture, and agri-based businesses for young people to access employment opportunities. In the 2017 poll, Obado floored Ayacko in the ODM primaries. He would later seek the Senate seat in 2018 after the demise of Ben Oluoch Okello. The senator has been holding town hall meetings and rallies across the county.
Dalmas who opposed Ayacko in 2017 and backed Obado’s re-election hopes to be the first Nyanza governor to be elected on a Jubilee Party ticket.
The Makerere University-trained economist and businessman was one of Raila’s key strategists in the grand coalition government where he was Public Service minister.
His political profile was a major selling point when he launched his bid at a mega rally at Posta Grounds in Migori town a few weeks ago. In the past, he faced strong criticism over his dalliance with the Jubilee Party which cost him politically 2017.
In 2014, he was among a group of leaders who fronted a new outfit dubbed “Kalausi” that was linked to a scheme to cut ODM’s influence in the region. “I want to offer my people the best services,” Otieno said.
Maroa who is from the minority Kuria community says she is prepared for the battle. “I believe that the journey I have started will bring change,” she said.
With Kuria factor playing out in the race, Ayacko, Dalmas, Pesa, Okoth and Mwabe have since picked their running mates from the community.
With 135,000 registered voters as per the 2017 statistics from electoral commission, the Kuria community accounts for 30 per cent of the Migori population.
Ayacko picked Dr Joseph Mahiri, a university don while Dalmas went for Thomas Maneno, a former journalist. Mwabe’s running mate is John Magaiwa, Ngao has Julius Chacha, former chief producer at KBC while Okoth has Julius Mabanga, with hopes that they will bag Kuria votes.
Pesa picked Marwa Muhingira, a former principal after dropping Matiko Bohoko, a former journalist.
Since 2013, the Kuria vote has played a key role in determining who becomes governor. Analysts believe the current poll is not different. Candidates from Kuria eyeing the seat have also picked their deputies from the Luo side to help them win the Luo vote.
Obado won the seat largely in 2013 after he picked his running mate, the now deputy governor Nelson Mahanga to woo Kuria votes. The other three candidates picked their deputies from other sub-counties.
Mr Mwabe said despite not being affiliated to any party, he still supports Azimio.
“When I walk in other counties where hospitals and roads are upgraded, I ask myself questions about Migori. My agenda is to change,” he said.
Migori Woman Rep Pamela Odhiambo who was in the race before party nominations bolted out when it was confirmed that Ayacko had been issued with a direct ticket.
It is widely believed she could be backing Dalmas. Her supporters from the Kuria community had moved to Dalmas’ camp.
Migori has an estimated 400,000 registered voters. The country has eight sub-counties. As per the 2017 data on registered voters, Rongo has 48,412 voters, Awendo 48,293, Suna East 46,534, Suna West 46,030, Uriri 51,676, Nyatike 61,477, Kuria West 51,057 and Kuria East 35,154.