The fierce contest in the Kibra by-election is turning out to be a struggle by political bigwigs out to test their popularity ahead of 2022 General Election.
At the heart of the battle is the political power play pitting Deputy President William Ruto against Opposition chief Raila Odinga. Dr Ruto appears keen to settle scores with Raila after the latter’s peace deal with President Uhuru Kenyatta that some say has given the ODM leader some influence in the Government.
The battle is further fueled by the push to control Nairobi politics. A win for Ruto in the parliamentary contest will be a major political pronouncement as he seeks to consolidate his support in the capital city that has remained strategic for presidential candidates.
For Raila, losing the seat would be a big blow for him as Kibra has traditionally backed him.
It would further add to recent losses in Embakasi South, Ugenya and Wajir West for his ODM party.
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ODM Director of Elections Junet Mohamed has said Ruto was trying to get entry into Nairobi politics through the by-election and was just using former footballer MacDonald Mariga as a pawn.
He says Ruto has no support in Nairobi, a key constituency for any serious presidential contender.
“The issue we have here is that Ruto wants to be President in 2022 but he has no serious support base in the city,” Junet said yesterday.
Junet, however, said it would be extremely difficult for Ruto to successfully campaign for Mr Mariga.
“ODM is the dominant party and we enjoy massive support in Kibra. We are not worried as far as the by-election is concerned,” he said.
Similar sentiments were shared by Nominated MP Godfrey Osotsi of Amani National Congress, who said some of the parties in the race were using their candidates as mere pawns in their quest to settle political scores with Raila.
He said the contest had been taken away from candidates and turned into a rehearsal for the Presidency in 2022.
“Some of them think it is an opportunity to measure their popularity and settle scores with Raila. Nobody is talking about the capacity of the candidates,” said Mr Osotsi, who has declared support for ODM candidate Imran Okoth.
Ruto ally and Kimilili MP Didmus Barasa says they want to use the poll to test whether Ruto’s political forays in Western Kenya have started yielding fruit.
He has argued that since most voters in Kibra are Luhya, a win for Jubilee would mean the community has shifted support from Raila. “Majority of Kibra voters are Luhyas and have traditionally supported Raila. The thinking of a Luhya in Kibra is not different from that of those in rural areas,” he said.
He added: “If they back our candidate, it would mean their voting patterns have changed across the country. It would mean they will vote Ruto in 2022. We are campaigning, strategising and will do everything to win the seat.”
But in the event Mariga loses, Barasa says they will rework their strategy as it would mean the community is still with Raila.
Political analyst Herman Manyora said ODM losing the Kibra seat would mean Raila’s support base in Nairobi is shrinking.
He said it would also confirm fears that Raila’s team is poor on campaigns despite the fact the ODM boss is a great mobiliser. “If he loses, it will be saying a lot about the state of ODM and popularity of Raila as a person. It would also confirm claims he is a great mobiliser but does not have proper campaign strategy,” said Manyora.
He said such a loss may stoke suspicion between Uhuru and Raila’s side over their commitment to the March 9 handshake.
Manyora said Raila’s supporters may start questioning the truce after Uhuru endorsed Mariga. “It will create anger in Raila’s camp, as they are likely to accuse Uhuru of betrayal for allowing his party to field Mariga,” he said.