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By-elections have thrown the political scene into a spin

By Jacob Ng'etich | March 7th 2021
ANC party candidate Oscar Nabulindo. [Benjamin Sakwa, Standard]

The just-concluded seven by-elections have reshaped the political scene and given new impetus to the battle between President Uhuru Kenyatta and ODM leader Raila Odinga, on the one hand, and Deputy President William Ruto.

The stakes were always going to be high, seeing how the mini-polls came just 16 months to the next General Election. Pundits now say the results are a pointer of how things will pan out in 2022, and that they should help party leaders figure out how to protect their turfs from political assault.

In Matungu and Kabuchai, Amani National Congress (ANC) and Ford Kenya parties maintained their seats in tough battles that saw them lose ground to Raila Odinga’s Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) and the United Democratic Alliance (UDA) that is allied to Deputy President William Ruto.

Other by-elections were held in London and Hells Gate wards in Nakuru, Kiamokama in Kisii, Kitise Kithuki in Makueni and Huruma in Uasin Gishu.

The victory of ANC’s Peter Nabulindo in Matungu and Ford Kenya’s Majimbo Kalasinga in Kabuchai have emboldened ANC party leader Musalia Mudavadi and his Ford Kenya counterpart Moses Wetang’ula who were keen to maintain their grip on the region after the deaths of MPs Justus Murunga and James Lusweti.

More importantly, the mini-polls have given momentum to the ‘Sacred Alliance’ that brings together Mudavadi, Wetang’ula, Baringo Senator Gideon Moi and Wiper leader Kalonzo Musyoka who vigorously campaigned for the two candidates.

UDA had fielded six candidates in what Ruto’s close ally and Belgut MP Nelson Koech said was part of a plan to introduce the party across the country. The deputy president’s allies were buoyed by last year’s victory in Msambweni constituency where independent candidate Feisal Bader snatched an ODM seat from its candidate Omar Boga.

Energised by the victories in Kakamega and Bungoma, the alliance is expected to shift its campaigns to Machakos where Wiper’s Agnes Muthama will battle it out with UDA’s Arbunas Ngengele and Mutua Katuku of Maendeleo Chap Chap, which is led by governor Alfred Mutua.

East African Legislative Assembly member Oburu Odinga, however, described the mini-polls as a “sham and a market place where people were paid to vote.”

“The by-elections are not an indicator of anything that anyone should take seriously. It should actually be labelled corrupt. I have never seen such a by-election where people exchanged money for votes so openly,” Oburu, who is Raila’s elder brother, said.

Protecting turfs

Political analyst Jairus Bigambo said the by-elections were not about the candidates, but the figures behind them. “If ANC had lost Matungu, it would be seen that Mudavadi does not have a strong grassroots presence. The win, however, shows that ANC is ready to protect its turf and defend the Western region.”

He continued: “In Kabuchai, a win for Ford Kenya also shows that the party was willing to defend and retain a foothold in the Western region. As for UDA, it was proving a point to show that in as much as it’s a young party, it has political muscle and a war chest in readiness for a super contest in the 2022 General Election.”

Mr Bigambo posited that Ruto was out to prove that despite his absence during the polls, his foot soldiers were willing to fight it out with any other party.

“It would have been a serious embarrassment if UDA was able to outfox Ford Kenya. Questions would have emerged that if UDA had outwitted Ford Kenya, then what would a major political party have done? That would have sounded the death knell for Ford Kenya because it would have meant that other major parties would have invaded Western and Wetang’ula chased out.”

Bigambo said UDA’s victory in the London ward by-election was a statement to Jubilee about the fractured relationship between Uhuru and Ruto.

“The extent to which Jubilee employed State resources to try and secure a win in the small ward shows that it was not willing to lose any ground. But for UDA the point was to show they want to severe ties with Jubilee for purposes of political advancement.”

Bigambo said the alliance between Mudavadi, Gideon, Wetang’ula and Kalonzo showed that the leaders are willing to fight for elections and perhaps welcome other parties to form a bigger coalition to win the presidency.

“For so long, that coalition has been seen as a formation of ‘weak’ leaders who could easily be driven out of town. These by-elections, however, position the four as an outfit that can create strong national interest going into the 2022 elections.

“But they cannot win the presidency through unity alone and they need to agree on who among them can lead the coalition with ideas and vison, and who has the capability and intent to lead a country,” said Bigambo.

Notably, the hotly contested by-elections were marred by clashes, chaos, bribery allegations and arrests in what appeared to be simmering tensions in the run-up to the General Election.

In a day of running battles at polling stations, police lobbed teargas canisters and arrested politicians allied to Ruto’s Tanga tanga wing following bribery claims.

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