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Hillary Barchok, Isaac Ruto in fierce fight for county top seat, political survival

Bomet Governor Hillary Barchok and Chama Cha Mashinani party leader Isaac Ruto when they shared a platform at Kipreres in Bomet east. [Gilbert Kimutai, Standard]

Battle lines have been drawn in the Bomet governor contest, with each of the three main contestants promising to change the lives of the locals. Governor Hillary Barchok, Chama Cha Mashinani (CCM) party leader Isaac Ruto and ANC candidate Mr Bernard Mutai are each hoping to carry the day on August 9.

Even as the three traverse the county to woo voters,  political pundits say it is a do or die for the incumbent Governor (Mr Barchok) and the former (Mr Ruto).

The two, both allies of Deputy President Dr William Ruto, are locked in a fierce fight for political survival, with their contest overshadowing all others in the county.

Their heated competition plays out in the county, indicating the high stakes. When the two shared a platform a week ago, during a thanksgiving event at Moi Gardens, their differences played out. They almost brought the event to a standstill, with opposing supporters cheering and jeering.

Prof Barchok was heckled, cutting short his speech during the event attended by Dr Ruto’s running mate Mr Rigathi Gachagua.

It was however an act of sweet revenge for Prof Barchok during Kenya Kwanza Economic Forum in Bomet, attended by ANC leader Mr Musalia Mudavadi, after his supporters heckled Mr Ruto and made it difficult for him to make his speech.

Humiliated, Mr Ruto stormed out of the meeting with his supporters.

With his CCM party, the former governor is also giving Dr Ruto’s UDA sleepless nights in the county.

Besides mounting rigorous grassroots campaigns against it, as he seeks his comeback, Mr Ruto has fielded candidates to challenge UDA in August.

Mr Ruto, who has gone against the UDA wave in the county and mounting a brave campaign to wrestle the seat from Prof Barchok, is leaving nothing to chance despite attempts by opponents to brand him an enemy trying to sabotage the DP’s quest for the presidency.

Before party nominations, Mr Ruto looked disadvantaged, with pundits expressing fear about his ability to put up a fight against UDA.

With two months to the General Election, Mr Ruto has proven a tough nut to crack, as he has been able to withstand the political tides, from refusing to yield to pressure to fold his party to holding back a push by UDA for six-piece voting in the coming polls.

That has however provided fodder for his opponents, who have accused him of trying to split the DP’s backyard and reduce his numerical strength.

Prof Barchok has capitalised on the failure of Mr Ruto’s CCM to sign a preelection agreement with Kenya Kwanza to try and brand him an outcast in a bid to reap political mileage.

But Mr Ruto has fought the claims that he is fighting the DP through his party. He says the DP is CCM’s presidential candidate.

He says he has been helping to mobilise votes for the DP as he combs the county.

Mr Ruto has defended his absence during the signing of the coalition agreement by UDA affiliate parties, saying the CCM was part of Kenya Kwanza and does not have demands since it shares the same aspirations with UDA.

Mr Barchok is also banking on his development scorecard, asking locals to make decisions based on development records and not be swayed by political gimmick.

He says compared to when Mr Ruto was in office, his administration delivered development and services. The most recent, he says, is a school feeding programme that has won the hearts of learners in preschools across the county.

In the programme, Early Childhood Education learners in the county receive milk twice a week. Prof Barchok has termed the programme life-changing and meant to encourage learners to enrol in schools.

Prof Barchok says most of the projects started by Mr Ruto were left hanging due to misappropriation of public funds.

“He had his time and it was evident then that he is not development conscious and that is enough reason to shun him,” Prof Barchok has said.

He says his administration has completed the construction of more than 500 ECDE centres and employed teachers for the same facilities.

Prof Barchok is also boasting new feeder roads done by his administration and streamlining of public services that have seen employees who were on contracts confirmed.

Mr Ruto has, however, poked holes on Prof Barchok’s development record, accusing him of running down the county.

Mr Ruto said frequent complaints about the lack of drugs in local health facilities were enough reason to send the governor home.

He said the health of the electorate was paramount and should be a reason to vote Mr Barchok out.

The former governor said the pending bills were unimaginable, adding that those doing business with the county were not paid in time.

Mr Ruto has also cited the failure to complete the Bomet IAAF stadium as an injustice to local sporting activities. “How can such a huge facility go to waste as he watches, yet he (Prof Barchok) has the power to complete it,” Mr Ruto said, adding that Mr Barchok has no excuse and should prepare to vacate office come August.

Pundits in the region say the contest will determine the political fate of the two politicians.

The ANC party aspirant, who entered the race at the last minute, says he wants to come as an alternative candidate.

Mr Mutai says he is out to neutralise the rivalry between the UDA and CCM candidates, saying such political differences are not beneficial to the electorate.

Mr Mutai, a former Jubilee chairman, says the political competition has subjected locals to poverty.

“Poverty is taking root because of the political contests and we should shun such and focus on development,” he says.

Mr Mutai says his main agenda would be uplifting the well-being of the electorate and empowering them financially.

He has asked the electorate to ignore the political sideshows being staged by his opponents and concentrate on what they are offering to do.

Mr Ivor Korir, a political observer in the region, says the Bomet governor contest holds the political future of the two leaders.

Mr Korir has expressed fear that whoever loses the contest may fall into political oblivion. 

“It is a contest for a political lifeline. Each one of them knows that if they lose, it will be very hard to make a political comeback and they are leaving no stone unturned,” he told The Standard.

Mr Korir says while Mr Ruto has been in the cold for five years following the devastating defeat in 2017, Prof Barchok is only starting to climb the political ladder, and a loss for him is not an option he may want to consider now.