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Race to fill vacant Matungu seat begins after MP's burial

Matungu MP Justus Murunga's funeral at Makunda Primary School on Saturday. [Standard]

The stage has been set for a bruising political clash pitting big political players in the yet-to-be declared Matungu by-election following the burial of area MP Justus Murunga on Saturday.

ODM leader Raila Odinga has already indicated that the Orange party will square it out with ANC and Jubilee in what is promising to be a battle pitting the former prime minister, Deputy President William Ruto and ANC leader Musalia Mudavadi.

The race is touted as a precursor for the 2022 contest in Western, with the three politicians flexing muscles in readiness for the duel.

Mudavadi is not about to let go of one of the parliamentary seats bagged by his party in Kakamega County in the last elections. However, he will contend with competition from ODM and Jubilee, who are equally interested in the seat.

Raila has ruled out any possibility of a negotiated democracy to fill the vacant seat as suggested by a section of Mulembe leaders.

“We know we have democracy in Kenya, and we expect things to play out in Matungu just as it was done in Kibra after ODM lost Ken Okoth,” said Raila.

ODM performed dismally in 2017 in Kakamega, only managing two parliamentary seats out of a possible 12. ANC party scooped five seats while Jubilee bagged four and Ford Kenya one.

Kakamega Senator Cleophas Malala said the ANC party was currently in good terms with the handshake team and should be accorded the respect, as has been the case elsewhere during by-elections.

“We saw in Msambweni where Jubilee sat out of the race in respect for the ODM party; we also call for the same respect to be extended to Mudavadi’s party,” said Malala.

Lugari MP Ayub Savula was categorical that the late Murunga was an ANC MP, therefore the seat should be retained by the party.

Ford Kenya leader Moses Wetang’ula appeared to share the sentiments and went ahead to declare that his party would back an ANC candidate.

“As stated, we want unity in the Mulembe nation and I will not be competing against my brother (Mudavadi) here at Matungu the same way ANC won’t field a candidate in Kabuchai,” Wetang'ula told mourners at Makunda Primary School.

Kabuchai MP James Lusweti died last week. Wetang’ula argued that negotiated democracy would increase the chances of both parties retaining their seats in their strongholds.

The campaigns for the Matungu by-election have equally shifted to online platforms. Constituents have in the past five elections elected their MPs on five different political parties, and there is no guarantee that ANC could retain the seat.

Joseph Wamukoya was the first MP and was elected on a Kanu ticket in 1997. David Were, who served between 2002 and 2017, was elected on Narc, ODM and New Ford Kenya parties.

Although a member of the ANC party, Murunga was a key ally of DP Ruto and the Tanga Tanga movement. During his burial at Makunda village, Mudavadi reached out to voters asking them to give an ANC candidate the chance to "complete the work started by Murunga".

In 2017 Murunga bagged 18,088 votes to emerge victorious, beating Peter Nabulindo of Ford Kenya who managed 10,636 votes with incumbent Were finishing third with 8,618.

So far, 10 candidates have shown interest in the seat and even political meetings to lay down strategies have started. Nabulindo and Were are considered to be the front runners, but with Ford Kenya having withdrawn from the race, Nabulindo is said to be eyeing the ANC ticket.

“We know it will reach a time where we will require another person to take over where our beloved MP Murunga left; it's then that I will come out clearly," said Nabulindo.

Paul Achayo who was an ODM candidate in 2017 insists he will still vie on the party's ticket. But there are indications ODM will drop Achayo following claims that Governor Wycliffe Oparanya, who doubles as the deputy party leader, prefers Were.

The former MP was welcomed back to the ODM party by Raila last month during his visit to Mabole in Butere.

Reports that a section of constituents would prefer the late Murunga's close family member to take over from the MP could also complicate the arithmetic for the political parties depending on how the suggestion resonates with voters.

Eugene Ambwere, the only son of the late Murunga appealed to voters to allow them "fill the shoes left behind by my father". He was supported by the MP's second wife, Christabel Amunga.