Defections heighten vote scramble in western region
The dissolution of New Ford-Kenya and the United Democratic Front to join Jubilee, and the defection of western Kenya ODM leaders led by secretary-general Ababu Namwamba have set in motion a fever pitch scramble for a piece of one of the richest vote baskets, just a year to the next General Election.
The move has sent ripples on the political scene after several MPs from UDF and New Ford-Kenya announced they would be joining the Jubilee Party, triggering fresh realignments.
Traditionally sympathetic to Cord leader Raila Odinga, with a number of votes going to ANC’s Musalia Mudavadi in the last elections, the developments appear to have given hope to the ruling coalition of President Uhuru Kenyatta and Deputy President William Ruto.
Mr Odinga has accused the two of enticing his supporters to defect.
After the 2007 elections, the old Western Province remained the only other region outside of Nyanza and Coast where Mr Odinga commands massive support, and analysts are convinced he will do everything to retain the region, a key plank in his fourth presidential bid.
Mr Odinga has lined up week-long fire-fighting rallies in Busia, Vihiga and Kakamega counties, beginning on Monday. But Jubilee leaders remained bullish that the ground was now more receptive to their message.
The ODM leader starts a whirlwind tour with a meeting with delegates at Sosa Hotel in Vihiga. He will then hold town hall meetings, roadside addresses and rallies across the region.
But within the national scramble is also a local jostling for political relevance and control of turfs.
The unfolding political scenario is set to intensify the battle for votes between ODM and Ford-Kenya — the two Cord affiliate parties enjoying sizeable support in the region — and Mr Mudavadi’s Amani National Congress.
Bungoma Governor Ken Lusaka is leading the Jubilee onslaught in the region, while Kakamega Governor Wycliffe Oparanya is fronting ODM.
Then there is Cord co-principal Moses Wetang’ula who launched his presidential bid in April. In 2013, Jubilee clinched three parliamentary seats out of the 36 in the five counties of Kakamega, Vihiga, Busia, Bungoma and Trans Nzoia.
In reality, however, it had a bigger presence as it maintained a quasi-formal collaboration with UDF lawmakers and those of New Ford-Kenya.
MPs Mary Emaase (Teso South), Arthur Odera (Teso North) and Robert Pukose (Endebess) were elected on URP tickets.
ODM clinched 12 seats, while Ford Kenya got seven, two went to New Ford-Kenya and UDF won eight. Mt Elgon MP John Serut sailed through as an independent candidate, while Maendeleo Democratic Party took the Malava seat.
Mr Mudavadi is asking the Luhya to back his second bid for the presidency, arguing that unlike in the 2013 General Election, his political vehicle for the 2017 is a homegrown party.
He is set to address campaign rallies in Vihiga then head to Kakamega County for a church service in Lurambi. Thereafter, he will meet with New Ford-Kenya party officials and MCAs from Bungoma and Kakamega counties, who are set to decamp to his party.
The developments have given momentum to Jubilee’s wooing of the region and the Coast. Making inroads into the region would weaken Mr Odinga’s remaining bastions outside of his Nyanza turf.
During the burial of former Cabinet Minister Soita Shitanda on June 4, Mr Ruto stated Jubilee’s mission in the western region.
“In the 2013 poll, voters in western gave Jubilee the cold shoulder. This time around, we will not let that happen even if it means going into homes to talk to voters and convince them to back President Uhuru Kenyatta,” said Mr Ruto.
The DP asked the opposition to prepare for tough campaigns since Jubilee was determined to win support in the area.
Mr Lusaka is beaming with confidence about Jubilee’s chances of clinching victory in the former Western Province.
“The Luhya have sent a very strong message that they don’t want to continue being in the cold after voting for the opposition, which has nothing to offer them,” said Mr Lusaka.
But as he spoke, two officials of New Ford-Kenya decamped to Ford Kenya, saying the party was dissolved in an undemocratic manner.
These are former New Ford-Kenya Chairman Kipruto Kirwa and Kwanza woman leader Florence Wanjala.
But Governor Lusaka insists the dissolution followed the mood on the ground that indicated residents of Bungoma, Busia and Kakamega were warming to Jubilee.
In Kakamega County, Mumias East MP Benjamin Washiali is promoting the Jubilee Party. Others who have indicated they will be ditching the party for Jubilee are Mr Bernard Shinali (Ikolomali), Mr Emmanuel Wangwe (Navakholo), Mr Ayub Savula (Lugari) and Malava’s Malulu Injendi of Maendeleo Democratic Party.
In Vihiga County, Mr Yusuf Chanzu has indicated he is ready to work with Jubilee and he will be seeking the party’s ticket to challenge Governor Moses Akaranga.
In Bungoma, New Ford-Kenya MPs Boniface Otsyula (Bumula), Dan Wanyama (Webuye West) and Woman Rep Reginalda Wanyonyi are headed to the Jubilee Party along with the Sirisia MP, Major (rtd) John Waluke, of ODM, who resigned as the party’s National Security Secretary.
“Our strategy is to deliver between 50 to 80 per cent votes in western to Jubilee so we can have a say in the next government,” said Mr Washiali.
Governor Lusaka and Mr Washiali said Jubilee’s revival of the cash-strapped Mumias Sugar Company and the collapsed Pan Paper Mills in Webuye were clear indications that President Kenyatta and Mr Ruto have the interests of the region close to their hearts.
Analysts on Friday said that Mr Odinga would have to move strategically to avoid triggering more fallouts.
“This is the political fight of his life. He has to give it his all. But he shouldn’t have rushed to tour the region as this will portray him as having panicked. His tour is also a risk because he might appear isolated if the elected leaders who have been surrounding him fail to attend,” political commentator Barrack Muluka said.
Kakamega Governor Oparanya and his Busia counterpart, Mr Sospeter Ojaamong, however, said the party was not losing ground in the region.