Do or die race: Battlegrounds to watch in the August 9 polls

Voters queue at the Moi Avenue Primary School ready to cast their vote in the 2017 General Election. [File, Standard]

In every election cycle, the presidential race gets the most attention owing, naturally, to the currency attached to the top seat and the huge resources spent in campaigns. But the race merely garnishes a cocktail of lower-tier elections that are equally as competitive.

With less than seven months to the August 9 General Election, the political field is in full bloom, with flowering politicians eyeing various seats.  

Some seats have attracted more interest than others, setting the stage for fierce contest. The competition may be stiffer in elections that result from a vacant seat, left mostly by exiting second-term governors.

The Nairobi governor race is one shaping up as one to watch. Among those interested include Governor Anne Kananu, Nairobi Senator Johnson Sakaja, Westlands MP Tim Wanyonyi, Makadara MP George Aladwa, former Dagoretti South MP Dennis Waweru, Bishop Margaret Wanjiru, businesswoman Agnes Kagure and Kenya Chamber of Commerce president Richard Ngatia.

Few elections would rival the competitiveness of the capital’s governorship, perceived to be the most prestigious county seat.

In recent days, Deputy President William Ruto and his rival ODM leader Raila Odinga have campaigned in the city, each expressing desire to control the capital.

Historically, support of the top candidates has been split almost down the middle. In 2013, former Governor Evans Kidero edged former Kiambu Governor Ferdinand Waititu in a hotly contested election. The same was witnessed in 2017 when the former county boss Mike Sonko dethroned Kidero.

Nairobi’s competitive nature owes, majorly, to its cosmopolitan nature, which has ensured mixed support for different parties and aspirants. The situation has created battlegrounds from which candidates across the board can reap significant votes. Such battlegrounds extend to constituencies, where aspirants believe they have a fighting chance. Lang’ata constituency is an emerging battleground this year.

The constituency is a splinter of the old Lang’ata constituency, a traditional base of Raila, which was divided into Lang’ata and Kibra.

The current MP Nixon Korir could face off against Felix Odiwuor alias Jalang’o and Raila’s nephew Jaoko Oburu, who has been linked to the race.

Party strongholds within other regions are also a hotbed of cutthroat competition, which mostly occurs at the nominations stage. This is because candidates are assured of victory if they land the dominant party’s ticket.

Several political contests in Mt Kenya region are expected to be hotly contested as aspirants have launched fierce campaigns in an effort to secure the coveted slots come August 9 election.

Some positions that have attracted unique political dynamics are in Kirinyaga, Murang’a, Meru and Laikipia counties.

In Kirinyaga, the rivalry between Governor Anne Waiguru and Woman Rep Wangui Ngirici has threatened to destabilise campaigns within the United Democratic Party (UDA).

The two have declared their interest in the governor’s seat and when Waiguru edged out Ngirici from UDA, the messy wrangles saw the leaders fall out spectacularly, and Ngirici forced out of a party she had heavily financed. With Waiguru having secured her spot in UDA, Ngirici has gone ahead to remove party colours from her offices that had been painted yellow and green. The wheelbarrow symbol of UDA has now been repainted white. In Murang’a, the race to take over from Governor Mwangi wa Iria has attracted top politicians and civil servants.

Murang’a Senator Irungu Kang’ata has declared his interest under UDA while others are former Kigumo MP Jamleck Kamau who attempted to clinch the seat in 2017.

Principal Secretary for Water and Irrigation Joseph Wairagu has gained popularity in the race while he is yet to kick off his campaigns.

Following his efforts towards tea sector reforms, chairman of the Kenya Tea Sector Lobby Irungu Nyakera has also thrown his hat in the ring. While Woman Rep Sabina Chege has made her intentions to vie for governor, she has been a Jubilee stalwart. Constituencies such as Mathioya and Kiharu also offer competitive races. Mathioya MP Peter Kimari will be seeking a second term against former MP Clement Wambugu, Dr Edwin Mugo who is the Irrigation Chief Officer at the Murang’a County government, Embakasi CDF chairman Stephen Macharia, youthful lawyer and political commentator Kenneth Warungu.

In Bomet, Governor Hillary Barchok, Chama Cha Mashinani party leader Isaac Ruto and Eng John Mosonik, the CAS Petroleum and Mining, have declared their interest in the top seat. Ruto and Barchok have engaged in a fierce exchange of words. The two have since declared their support for DP Ruto. The rivalry was manifested during DP’s tour in the region where their supporters engaged in shouting contests.

The CCM leader claims Barchok is no longer popular and would be voted out. Barchok terms Isaac Ruto as an attention seeker. The Bomet Senate seat has attracted Kanu Secretary-General Nick Salat, ODM Nominated MP Wilson Sossion, lawyer Hillary Sigei and current Senator Christopher Langat.

In Baringo, Governor Stanley Kiptis, County Assembly Clerk Richard Koech, former Governor Benjamin Cheboi, Eldama Ravine MP Mosses Lessonet have declared their interest in the county’s top seat. Also on the list is Elgeyo Marakwet Director of procurement Robert Chelagat.

Baringo Central MP Joshua Kandie and County Assembly Speaker David Kerich, former MP Sammy Mwaita, will also engage in a bruising political battle. In Kericho County, the governor seat will fall vacant since Governor Paul Chepkwony prepares to leave office after serving his second and final term.

Devolution Cabinet Secretary Charles Keter, Deputy Governor Lily Ngok, Dr Erick Mutai, Eng Fred Kirui and Prof James Sang have declared interest in succeeding Chepkwony.

Kenya’s High Commissioner to Namibia Benjamin Langat will seek to recapture Ainamoi seat currently held by Sylvanus Maritim.

A long queue of voters at the Moi Avenue Primary School is ready to cast their vote in the 2017 General Election. [File, Standard]

In Nyandarua, the hotly contested seats include the governor and senate positions. Woman Rep Faith Gitau, deemed a front runner on UDA, Water and Sanitation CS Sicily Kariuki, former Governor Waithaka Mwangi, Speaker Ndegwa Wahome, former Deputy Governor Waithaka Kirika, Kariuki Muchiri, who works for ABSA bank, and Moses Ndirangu popularly known as Badilisha, are seeking to oust Governor Francis Kimemia.

While Kimemia is relying on his development record, those giving him a run for his money argue he has not delivered on his pre-election promises. Kimemia is in the Azimio camp, which supports Raila.

In Laikipia, Governor Ndiritu Muriithi, will defend his seat against former Governor Joshua Irungu, businessman Mburu Kamau, former Deputy Governor Gitonga Kabugi, County Assembly Human Resource Manager Miriam Mwangi, Koinange Wahome and John Wakaba.

The senatorial seat has also attracted former Mungiki leader Maina Njenga who is vying on a Kanu ticket, former PS Thuita Mwangi, Knut executive secretary Laikipia branch Jackson Thangei, Jane Putunoi and Eng Henry Kimani. In Narok, the race for the top seat has attracted Youth Affairs PS Charles Sunkuli, Labour CAS Patrick Ntutu, Narok West MP Gabriel Tongoyo and Narok North MP Moitalel ole Kenta. Last week’s resignation of Rift Valley Regional Commissioner George Natembeya set the stage for a bruising battle for Trans Nzoia governor race. Natembeya is set to clash with Kiminini MP Chris Wamalwa and a host of other aspirants in the race to succeed two-term Governor Patrick Khaemba.

At the centre of the battle are Defence CS Eugene Wamalwa who has thrown his weight and that of his party Democratic Alliance Party of Kenya (DAP-K) behind Natembeya while Chris is expected to vie under Ford Kenya where he’s secretary-general. The contest has renewed political rivalry between Eugene and Ford Kenya leader Moses Wetang’ula.

Natembeya is yet to identify with a party to vie for the coveted seat, but his handlers have indicated that he is headed to the Democratic Alliance Party of Kenya DAP-K, a party linked to Eugene. In Nandi, a bruising battle for the UDA ticket has reignited the 2017 battle between Governor Stephen Sang and his predecessor Cleophas Lagat.  

Other aspirants eyeing the UDA ticket are lawyer Allan Kosgey, Speaker of the assembly Joshua Kiptoo, and finance expert Antipas Tirop. In Western, Busia, Kakamega and Bungoma governor seats promise competitive contests. Outgoing Busia Governor Sospeter Ojaamong’ who is eyeing Teso South parliamentary seat will square it out with former area MP Mary Emesa, an ally of  Ruto and incumbent Geoffrey Omuse. In Kakamega, former Senator Boni Khalwale, an ally Ruto and his successor Cleophas Malala, lead the pack of politicians seeking to succeed Governor Wycliffe Oparanya.

The two promise unprecedented battle in a contest that has also attracted several politicians and technocrats including Ketraco CEO Fernandes Barasa.

Malala was elected on ANC ticket but has been warming up to Ruto and fueling speculations that he could be chasing a UDA party ticket and elbow out outspoken Khalwale.

In Bungoma, Senate Speaker Kenneth Lusaka is promising his successor Governor Wycliffe Wangamati a bruising battle. Lusaka’s allies say he is contemplating vying on a Ford Kenya ticket after mending fences with the party leader Wetang’ula.

Nearly all counties in Nyanza could experience heated political campaigns as allies of ODM party leader declare interest.

In Siaya, political camps have emerged as succession of Governor Cornel Rasanga gathers steam. The battle will be between Senator James Orengo, former police spokesperson Charles Owino, former MP Nicholas Gumbo and Deputy Governor James Okumbe.

In Kisii County, Dagoreti North MP Simba Arati, Woman Rep Janet Ongera and Senator Sam Ongeri are eyeing the ODM ticket in the race to succeed James Ongwae, a Raila ally. Other aspirants are Nyaribari Masaba MP Ezekiel Machogu, Deputy Governor Joash Maangi, former Senator Chris Obure and businessman Chweya Matoke.

[Reporting by Boniface Gikandi, Lydia Nyawira, Julius Chepkwony, James Munyeki, Osinde Obare, John Shilitsa, Eric Abuga and Brian Otieno]