It all started with a letter from The National Alliance Party (TNA) to the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) urging the electoral body to bar lawyer Kethi Kilonzo from running for the Makueni Senate seat in a by-election scheduled for July 22.
But the IEBC went ahead to clear her with the returning officer saying any party aggrieved by its decision was at liberty to seek legal redress.
That was on June 26. But despite being cleared to run on a Wiper ticket, TNA is not yet done with Kethi.
The party of President Uhuru Kenyatta still maintains Kethi is not a registered voter and did not vote in March, and as such her candidature should be nullified.
TNA has taken up the issue with the County Assembly Nominations Disputes Resolution Committee chaired by Mr Thomas Letangule. The committee will discuss the matter this week.
Last Wednesday TNA and Wiper officials were separately involved in behind-the-scenes maneuvers aimed at scuttling or saving Kethi’s political debut.
Tension was high at the Wote Multi-Purpose Catholic hall as candidates presented their nomination papers to IEBC on Wednesday and Thursday.
On the first day Labour Party of Kenya (LPK) candidate Mrs Jane Kitundu and former Kilome MP John Harun Mwau were cleared. But on Thursday, there was heavy police presence as Ms Kilonzo and former Kibwezi MP Prof Philip Kaloki presented their papers.
There were fears that the Wiper candidate would not be cleared because her name was not in the electoral register.
The previous day, TNA secretary for legal affairs and administration of justice Mr Jasper Mbiuki wrote to IEBC chairman Mr Isaack Hassan disputing Ms Kilonzo eligibility to run.
“The National Alliance wishes to formally communicate to the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission its grave concerns regarding the ineligibility of Ms Kethi Kilonzo as a candidate for the Makueni Senatorial by-election,” Mr Mbiuki said in the letter dated June 25, 2013.
The letter went on, “Section 24(1)(a) of the Elections Act (Chapter 24 of the Laws of Kenya ) prescribes that one of the qualifications necessary for a person to be nominated by a political party to contest for a Parliamentary seat (whether National Assembly or Senatorial) is that one must be a registered voter.
“Our perusal of the voters register has confirmed Ms Kilonzo does not appear on the roll, nor is there any voter registration for Identity Card Number 21216762, which is Ms Kilonzo’s ID number.
We are also reliably informed that because Ms Kilonzo was not a registered voter, she did not vote in the March 2013 General Election”.
Mr Mbiuki said based on Ms Kilonzo’s disqualification under Section 24(1) of the Elections Act; “her participation in this by-election, either as a candidate or as a voter would be a criminal act pursuant to Section 58 of the Elections Act punishable by a fine not exceeding one million shillings or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding six years or to both.
Cord Alliance saw this coming and it dispatched senator James Orengo with a court order to stop the nomination exercise if Ms Kilonzo was not going to be cleared.
Kethi says she registered in Karen. On Thursday, there was tension when she presented herself before the Makueni by-election returning officer Mr Salaat Boru but took more time than the others to be cleared.
There were technicalities in her papers which saw IEBC officials tell her to briefly leave their office as they “consulted”.
This took two hours. Her name was not on the roll and this prompted the officials to seek advice. She was eventually cleared after two hours with the TNA members crying foul.
“The IEBC has seven days of which to verify the papers of all the candidates; once this is done then they will be officially gazetted,” says an official who participated in the exercise but who asked not to be named citing the sensitivity of the matter.
Well-placed sources within the Jubilee say they will go to court before Friday.
“We are all too aware that the IEBC will no doubt come under intense pressure to sweep this issue under the rug from powerful undemocratic forces who have no respect for either the Constitution or the rule of law. However the IEBC must remain steadfast and apply the law without fear or favour,” Mr Mbiuki said.
He said given the fact that Ms Kilonzo is an eminent lawyer, she must have known that she is not legally eligible to contest in this Election. As an advocate of the High Court, who has sworn to uphold and defend the Constitution and the rule of law, she was bound by that solemn oath to decline nomination knowing full well that she was not legally qualified to stand for election.
“Unfortunately, she did not do the honourable thing and decline the candidature, and it now falls on the IEBC to apply the law of the land,” says Mr Mbiuki.
Talking to the Sunday Nation Ms Kilonzo dismissed the talks saying the machinations were part of a wider scheme by her rivals to scuttle her chances.
“The die has been cast, there is no turning back. They either join the winning team or they perish,” she said.
And speaking yesterday the Narc candidate for the by-election Mr Kaloki was more conciliatory, saying cleared candidates should be allowed to compete .
“IEBC did its work by clearing all the candidates who appeared before it on Wednesday and Thursday; let the campaigns begin and may the best team win,” he said.
“Let Ms Kilonzo, Mrs Kitundu and MrMwau of Pick face each other in the ballot, that is where the beauty of elections lies,” Mr Kaloki said.
Meanwhile, the by-election battle has renewed the traditional rivalry between veteran Ukambani politicians Mr John Harun Mwau, Mrs Charity Ngilu and former Vice President Kalonzo Musyoka.
Mr Mwau has seen a vacuum in the absence of the two and hence wants to get to the Senate seat with a view to establishing a new political order the region.
Mr Musyoka is neither an MP nor a senator after his Cord coalition lost the presidential race to the Jubilee.
Mrs Ngilu is a Cabinet Secretary, and her appointment technically forced her out of active politics.