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CORD, Jubilee row over Makueni senate seat

The late Makueni Senator Mutula Kilonzo's daughter Kethi. (Photo:Standard)

By Daniel Nzia and Goeffrey Mosoku

Makueni, Kenya: Underhand tactics, unverified claims and desperate schemes are already marking out the Makueni Senate by-election as a bruising contest between the Jubilee and CORD alliances.

Confusion reigned Monday, over which party’s ticket Nduku Kilonzo is banking on after Narc leader Kiema Kilonzo dismissed her candidature in a section of the press.

It had been thought she would run on the Narc ticket after she was introduced by Lands Cabinet Secretary Charity Ngilu to the congregation at our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church on Sunday in the presence of President Kenyatta.

Officially, Kenyatta was there to attend the memorial service for the late Bishop Urbanus Joseph Kioko, but the event was laced with heavy political undertones.

Under the Constitution, Ngilu is not allowed to engage in politics as a member of the Cabinet, but some read scheming in her actions.

Mbooni MP Michael Kisoi Munyao summed it up by saying: “This is not just another church service, but a political game.”

“Ngilu will definitely not engage in direct campaigns but you can be sure she will employ behind-the-scenes tactics to deliver the seat to Jubilee,” said a separate source that, however, asked not to be named.

The intrigues deepened after Nduku claimed her stepdaughter Kethi had opted out of the race, a claim that could not be confirmed. Sources within the Jubilee camp intimated that the alliance is ready to play dirty against CORD by winning over Kethi Kilonzo, the late Senator’s daughter, to their side.

Kethi is yet to publicly confirm her candidature for her late father’s seat but leaders among them Makueni MP Daniel Maanzo, insist she has accepted to vie on a Wiper ticket in the July 22 by-election.

Multiple sources intimated to The Standard that among the tactics Jubilee is mulling over is to have Kethi and her stepmother Nduku on their side.

They said Jubilee would try and tempt Kethi to either contest the seat on the ticket of one of the member parties or pull out of the race in favour of their preferred candidate.

Honour of father

In the event Kethi completely refuses to play ball, then the alliance will front her stepmother, a move observers say will amount to her being a spoiler.  The reason Jubilee is interested in Kethi in either of the two options is because of her popularity among the Makueni county residents. Voters in the region have openly said they would vote for her in honour of her late father for whom they voted overwhelmingly in the March 4 General election.

Running as a candidate of the Wiper Democratic Party in CORD, the late Mutula polled over 192,000 votes against former Kilome MP John Harun Mwau’s 52,000 plus.

Wiper leaders maintain the seat belongs to their party that is dominant in Ukambani. Reports about the entry into the race by Nduku, possibly setting up a clash with her stepdaughter, Kethi, has lit the fuse on the feud between Jubilee and CORD.

CORD is fighting to retain the seat held by a figure instrumental in the making of the coalition in the run-up to the March 4 vote. Besides, the region overwhelmingly voted for CORD and is perceived the bedrock of support for former Vice President Kalonzo Musyoka’s Wiper Democratic Movement party.

The ruling coalition sees Kilonzo’s exit as the perfect chance to end this dominance and is shopping for a strong candidate to bag the seat. The sympathy that Kethi would draw appears formidable hence the plan to try and split the CORD votes by engaging her stepmother Nduku.

The announcement caught many by surprise given that Kethi, who starred during CORD co-principal and former Prime Minister Raila Odinga’s petition against the election of President Uhuru at the Supreme Court, is anticipated to vie.

Raila’s ODM and Ford Kenya, who are the other partners in CORD, have reportedly agreed to back the Wiper candidate. Raila, Kalonzo and Senator Moses Wetang’ula will campaign for the coalition’s candidate.

When asked by The Standard Monday whether she was in the running, Nduku replied: “I have no comment at this time.”  Prodded further, she insisted that in an earlier conversation she had with Kethi, her stepdaughter had told her she would not contest. 

During Mutula Kilonzo’s burial, Kalonzo urged the people of Makueni to honour the late ex-minister by remaining firmly in Wiper. Last week, a meeting called by Wiper to agree on a candidate failed to reach a decision, reportedly because a survey had indicated Kethi was the preferred candidate.

Monday, MPs allied to CORD alleged a scheme by Jubilee to divide the grieving family. “There will be a bitter contest between Cord and Jubilee and there is no secret that Jubilee is fronting Nduku Kilonzo probably against Kethi Kilonzo,” Makueni MP Dan Maanzo said. 

Maanzo said the leadership of Ukambani would try and urge the family to sit and agree on one candidate. “We want the family to sit and come up with one candidate and we will not like to see them divided because of an election,” he added.

Initiate talks

Machakos Senator Johnstone Muthama, who was a close ally of the late Mutula, said they would initiate talks within the family to avoid any fallout out.  Muthama indicated that they would talk to Kethi to forego her ambitions for the sake of the family.

“If it is indeed true that President Uhuru and Ngilu have endorsed Nduku, we may be forced to field one of the other candidates we considered because we value family and want them to remain united in the face of their grief,” he said.

Asked about the alleged plot, the director of communications in The National Alliance, one of the main parties in Jubilee, Mr Michael Waikenda said: “The Jubilee Coalition will unveil its candidate soon and for now we cannot speculate. Wait until then.”

On his part, Narc leader Kiema Kilonzo said: “I want to confirm as the new party leader that the Narc party has received four applications and we are interviewing them. In four days’ time we will unveil our candidate.” He took over the leadership of Narc from Ngilu after her appointment to Cabinet.

When pressed by The Standard to confirm if Nduku was among the four applicants Kiema would only say, “Just wait and you will see.”

Jubilee’s URP has reportedly resolved to field former Kibwezi MP Philip Kaloki with other expected candidates.

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