Battle for Western votes hots up as rivals hit the ground

ODM party leader Raila Odinga and Kakamega Governor Wycliffe Oparanya motorcade arrive at Bikhungu stadium during Azimio la Umoja meeting on December 31, 2021. [Benjamin Sakwa, Standard]

The Western Kenya region resembled a battlefield yesterday as troops allied to the three leading formations crisscrossed the region, wooing its 2.6 million voters to back their respective presidential aspirants.

The Azimio la Umoja brigade, Kenya Kwanza and One Kenya Alliance (OKA) went on a charm offensive to win voters who in the past have been voting for different presidential candidates instead of as a bloc.

While Azimio la Umoja team campaigned in the border county of Busia, Kenya Kwanza and OKA sought support in the larger Kakamega County.

At stake are 841,139 registered voters in Kakamega, 644,233 in Bungoma, 406,569 in Busia and 304,755 in Vihiga. Trans Nzoia, which lies in the North Rift with 395,741 registered voters, also shares a voting pattern with the four Western counties.

Kakamega Governor Wycliffe Oparanya is leading campaigns for ODM leader Raila Odinga’s presidential bid in the region under Azimio la Umoja, with the backing of DAP-K party, which is associated with Defence Cabinet Secretary Eugene Wamalwa and Kanduyi MP Wafula Wamunyinyi.

ANC leader Musalia Mudavadi and Ford-K’s Moses Wetang’ula are coalescing around Deputy President William Ruto. Politician Cyrus Jirongo is leading those backing OKA.

The task of delivering a united vote from the region has been futile since advent of multi-party due to divisions among local leaders. But Raila enjoyed huge support in 2017, 2013 and 2017 polls.

In 2017, he got 483,157 votes in Kakamega County while Uhuru had 63,399. In Vihiga, Uhuru topped with 18,275 against Raila’s 17,914.

Emerged top

Raila led in Bungoma with 284,786 votes against Uhuru’s 126,475. In Busia, Raila emerged top with 239,296 votes with Uhuru garnering 34,239 votes while in the cosmopolitan county of Trans Nzoia, Uhuru had 110,489 and Raila 134,312.

In the past few weeks, the region has witnessed high octane campaigns with major political forces courting it. Ruto has made forays in the region since 2018, but those opposing him insist the region is sealed for Azimio la Umoja and Raila. Raila has also had his troops storm the region in an offensive against the union between Ruto, Mudavadi and Wetang’ula.

Mudavadi insists the Luhya community has been taken for granted for long despite being selfless and generous to other people seeking their support in elective politics.

“Some of those we have supported think we are a ladder they can use and dump after they have reaped the fruits. This time, we say enough is enough; we are tired,” he said in a recent event. Governors Oparanya, Wilbur Otichillo (Vihiga), Wycliffe Wangamati (Bungoma) and Sospeter Ojaamong (Busia) have vowed to deliver Western to Raila.

Wamalwa and Wamunyinyi have  pitched camp in the region and have been leading a series of meetings and receiving defectors from the Mudavadi-Wetangula fold.

Yesterday, DP Ruto led Mudavadi and Wetang’ula to Amalemba grounds in Kakamega town where they accused Uhuru of trying to inherit himself through Raila.

Ruto told Uhuru that he will not succeed with the help of a few people to install Raila as the president and reminded him that were it not for him, he would not be president.

“A few people in State House are planning to install a puppet as president. This time round, the so-called deep State and the system will not help them but Kenyans will speak at the ballot. You (Uhuru) have only one vote and you can’t remote control us,” said Ruto.

According to the DP, they are prepared to teach those supporting Raila a lesson by ensuring that anyone in Azimio la Umoja is voted out.

“I have supported Raila before, same to Mudavadi and Wetang’ula but he did not make it, instead, he betrayed them. What makes you think if you support Raila with State machinery, you will make him president?” posed Ruto.

At the same time, Wetang’ula added: “Go slow Mr President, we are watching your moves and soon, we shall counter your dirty politics in equal measure. If you want to play politics, desist from using state resources to play partisan politics.”

Coalition patron?

“The real owner of Azimio la Umoja has come out himself and Kenyans have seen him. Uhuru has finally shown himself and is the coalition patron with Raila as his project. We want to form a hands on government not one managed by a remote the way the President wants.”

Mudavadi told Uhuru that even if he will host over a thousand delegations at State House in order to get support for Raila’s presidential bid, he will be defeated with his project, adding that if he were him (Uhuru), he would have chosen to retire honourably like Kibaki did in 2013.

Mudavadi likened Uhuru to former DRC President Joseph Kabila who helped President Felix Tshisekedi ascend to power and then started micro-managing his government.

“Azimio la Umoja is a project of those people who do not want to leave power and yet his time in office is over. You can’t plan for us, we want to be in government but we want to enter the government with our heads held high and not begging on our knees,” said Mudavadi.

But Azimio leaders criticised Ruto and his allies over their attacks on Murang’a Woman Rep Sabina Chege for her controversial claims on rigging of elections. 

Yesterday, during a rally in Busia, Raila’s troops defended Chege and told the DP and his allies to stop attacking her, with Embakasi East MP Babu Owino telling Chege not to honour the summons by IEBC to shed light on her sentiments.

They claimed it was unfair the way the Woman Rep has been subjected to personal attacks by the Kenya Kwanza brigade.

Reporting by Eric abuga, Nathan Ochunge and Harold Odhiambo