Two major political coalitions—Cord and Jubilee—on Saturday faced the real possibility of being locked out of the Makueni Senate race after their nominees’ credentials came under serious scrutiny.
The fate of the two early frontrunners—Cord’s Ms Diana Kethi Kilonzo and Jubilee’s Prof Philip Kaloki—is now in the hands of the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission tribunal chaired by commissioner Joseph Letangule.
The tribunal spent Friday and Saturday trying to determine whether the two met the threshold set out in law to participate in the by-election which was occasioned by the death of Senator Mutula Kilonzo on April 27.
The Jubilee coalition took its battle with Cord to the tribunal arguing that Ms Kilonzo is not a registered voter and is, therefore, not eligible to contest.
It emerged during hearings that Ms Kilonzo was not in the “Green Book” which is supposed to contain the details of all registered voters. She also did not have valid identification documents at the time of registration and details on her electoral card were one year out of date.
An electoral commission official who was the first to take the stand yesterday, Ms Immaculate Kasait, told the tribunal that Ms Kilonzo did not appear in the commission’s records.
But Cord has not taken the accusations against Ms Kilonzo lying down and, in what appears to be a tit-for-tat exchange, they have hauled the Jubilee candidate before the same tribunal.
Wiper party, on whose ticket Prof Kaloki contested the Makueni governor’s election in March, says the Jubilee nominee is still a member of the party.
According to Wiper officials, Prof Kaloki has not met the conditions set by the election rules where a candidate must have been a member of a political party for 45 days before contesting. The law also states that a person leaving a party must put it in writing before contesting any elective seat. Wiper says this was not done.
It is also argued that between March 4 and the time he presented his papers to the IEBC in Wote on June 27, Prof Kaloki is said to have embraced three parties – Wiper, URP and Narc.
The tribunal will present its findings this week before the names of candidates in the race are officially gazetted.
The Makueni Senate race is seen as more than a local by-election because of the great interest leaders in Cord and Jubilee have shown in the seat.
Both Cord leaders Raila Odinga and Kalonzo Musyoka are especially keen while top Jubilee leaders, particularly President Uhuru Kenyatta, Deputy President William Ruto and Lands Secretary Charity Ngilu are said to be heavily involved behind the scenes in crafting a winning strategy.
But both coalitions may find themselves without a candidate due to the serious challenges placed in the paths of their preferred picks.
The proceedings have been followed with great interest by voters on the ground. “I am a member of Wiper party and I have remained glued on my TV set watching proceedings of the tribunal. To be honest, the developments are not good for my party,” says Mrs Florence Kikuvi, a resident of Wote.
If the pair are barred from contesting, then focus will now be on two other candidates – the Party of Independent Candidates of Kenya (Pick) boss, Mr John Harun Mwau, and Labour Party of Kenya (LPK)’s Jane Kitundu.
It is a scenario that top Cord leadership will find problematic having invested heavily in Ms Kilonzo’s candidature.
The Jubilee Alliance is determined to fight Cord and the Wiper party in their own turf. Its first tactic was to scuttle Ms Kilonzo’s bid. The opportunity presented itself when doubts were raised on the Wiper candidate’s IEBC papers.
Ms Kilonzo is obviously the candidate to beat in the race and, if she is knocked out on a technicality, then the race will be thrown wide open.
Wiper is also challenging the Jubilee candidate’s eligibility to vie for the seat. Prof Kaloki was expected to have presented his papers to the returning officer on June 26 but he did so on June 27. Wiper says he flouted the rules of the game and should be disqualified.
Prof Kaloki is an experienced politician in the region having been an MP for Kibwezi before it was split.
If indeed the two coalitions will be faced with a situation where their preferred candidates are locked out, then they will have no option but to choose between Mr Mwau and Ms Kitundu.
In view of the circumstances, Mr Mwau, a veteran politician and wealthy businessman, could emerge the front-runner.
The former Kilome MP contested the Senate seat in the March 4 polls and finished second behind Mr Kilonzo. He has maintained a steady presence in the region since the last election.
Mrs Kitundu is a political newcomer who made her debut during the March General Election where she gave a good account of herself in the race for the Makueni County women’s representative’s seat, finishing second.
Observers fear that if Ms Kilonzo, a lawyer by profession, and Prof Kaloki, a former business professor at the Baptist Dallas University in the US, are locked out, then the by-election will be greeted with voter apathy.
“Cord supporters will definitely boycott the polls and this will be a boost to the Jubilee side,” said politician Jones Nzau.
Jubilee has in the meantime been trying woo Mr Mwau into forming a post-election coalition with it if he wins the by-election.
Mr Mwau’s aides, however, said he was approaching the by-election independently.
“He was cleared as a candidate of Pick, the same exercise also saw Jubilee, Cord and LPK candidates cleared. This shows that already he knew which side of his bread is buttered,” said an aide, Joseph Mutuku.
On the other hand, the Cord brigade is likely to go for LPK’s Mrs Kitundu.
“LPK is a friendly party with Cord alliance, Jane will come in as a good substitute if Kethi is blocked,” Wiper politician Joseph Kimeu said.
But if the tribunal clears Prof Kaloki and Ms Kilonzo, then the ensuing battle will be fierce.
Jubilee has employed a plan ‘B’ to tackle Cord and Ms Kethi in the event IEBC clears them. The coalition has brought to its side at least three MPs allied to Cord from the region who are boosting its campaigns.
At least 40 county representatives, majority of them from Wiper, and who are members of the Makueni County Assembly, have been incorporated into the Jubilee campaign machine.
Jubilee also has on its side two former close allies of Mr Musyoka—former assistant minister Gideon Ndambuki who wields influence in the region and former Makueni MP Peter Kiilu.
“It is true we have a good campaign machine with sitting MPs, County Representatives and respected leaders working for us,” says Prof Kaloki.
Cord’s campaign machine led by senators Moses Wetang’ula, James Orengo, Johnstone Muthama, MP Daniel Maanzo and The Independent Party leader Kalembe Ndile is countering this onslaught by taking Ms Kilonzo around the county in campaign caravans.
The two-day tribunal facing Ms Kethi has, however, slowed them down.
“We are optimistic all will go our way. What we are seeing is a well calculated move to destroy our candidate but Cord leaders and supporters will not just sit down and watch; we will defend our candidate,” Mr Muthama said.