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Family rivalry, 2022 succession politics at centre of Machakos poll

Wiper candidate for Machakos Senatorial by-election Agnes Kavindu Muthama. [Edward Kiplimo, Standard]

Caught up in a dramatic family rivalry, succession politics and a people in pursuit of representation, the Machakos senatorial race Wednesday proved to be a do-or-die contest whose results will make political statements.

Low turnout marked the poll that saw the rivalry between former Senator Johnstone Muthama and his estranged wife Agnes Kavindu play out, as Wiper leader Kalonzo Musyoka sought to defend his political turf.

Although there were eight candidates in the race for the seat that fell vacant after the death of Senator Boniface Kabaka, the contest was reduced to a two-horse race between Wiper's Kavindu and Arbunus Ngengele of the United Democratic Alliance (UDA) party allied to Deputy President William Ruto.

On Tuesday, former Cabinet Minister Mutua Katuku dropped out of the race with the statement from Maendeleo Chap Chap party leader and Machakos Governor Alfred Mutua claiming that they had been prevailed to do so by President Uhuru Kenyatta.

The governor called it a strategic move. But it is believed that his rivalry with Kalonzo could not allow him to support Kavindu after Katuku's withdrawal.

Yesterday, the National Assembly Deputy Minority Whip and Kathiani MP Robert Mbui said the withdrawal was a scheme by the governor to aid the UDA candidate and complicate matters for Wiper.

"We know his schemes but we are confident our candidate is strong and will trounce her competitors with a big margin," said Mr Mbui.

He said the Wiper party was a strong party in the Lower Eastern and could not be shaken.

He, however, admitted that the UDA candidate was likely to offer them a good challenge in Mwala and Machakos Town constituencies because of campaigns from MPs allied to UDA.

Kangundo MP Fabian Muli said Katuku's withdrawal will likely boost Ngengele's votes in Mwala which was his home, which is also the most populous of the eight constituency.

A win for Kavindu Muthama is likely to politically hurt the former Machakos senator who chairs  UDAand is seeking to make inroads in the country. It also could slow down the uptake of UDA in the Lower Eastern.

On the flipside, Ngengele's victory will give Muthama bragging rights, particularly against his former wife and Kalonzo.

But for the Wiper leader, the stakes are high. He is keen to reclaim the seat his party lost in 2017 to Chama Cha Uzalendo (CCU) and also buttress the argument that he is undisputed leader of the Lower Eastern region. A win for Kavindu will bolster his stature in the emerging coalition and help him in the national politics bargaining table.

A loss for Wiper candidate will weaken the former vice-president's authority in the emerging coalition between him and the Amani National Congress (ANC) party leader Musalia Mudavadi, Kanu chairman and Baringo Senator Gideon Moi and Bungoma Senator Moses Wetang'ula (Ford-Kenya).

Urbanus Ngengele, UDA candidate in the Machakos senatorial by-elections.

Other candidates

The other candidates in the by-election are Kioko Kitheka of Grand Dreams Development Party, Chama Cha Uzalendo's Lily Mwanzia, university don John Musingi of Makueni Governor Kivuta Kibwana's Muungano Party and independent candidate Gilbert Maluki.

Transport Chief Administrative Secretary Wavinya Ndeti who voted at the Athi River Social Hall at 9am urged voters to turn out in large numbers to make their voice heard.

The Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission decried the low voter turnout. County Returning Officer Joyce Wamalwa said voting went on well in the morning.

Kavindu cast her vote at Kathome Polling Station in Machakos Town constituency while Ngengele voted at the Mwala DEB Primary School.

The county has 1,335 polling stations spread across the eight constituencies. There are 622,965 registered voters, according to IEBC data.

Jacob Ng'etich and Erastus Mulwa

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