Campaigns for the Mutonguni Ward by-election in Kitui County closed on Monday with Wiper, the dominant party in the region, facing a real threat of losing the contest to Maendeleo Chap Chap.
The by-election has narrowed down to a bitter contest between Wiper party leader Kalonzo Musyoka and Machakos Governor Alfred Mutua, with their respective party candidates being fronts in a bigger political war to control the Ukambani region.
Until last week, the frontrunners for the seat were Mr Musee Mati of Maendeleo Chap Chap and Stephen Kithuka of Wiper party and a former councillor.
Both were seen as having equal chances of winning.
But the political stakes were raised when Mr Musyoka led a high powered delegation of Wiper MPs over the weekend to campaign for their candidate.
The MPs urged voters not to embarrass the Wiper leader in his home county, and told them to reject the Maendeleo Chap Chap Candidate.
The team included new Wiper party chairman Chirau Mwakwere, Kitui Senator Enoch Wambua and MPs Makali Mulu (Kitui Central), Edith Nyenze (Kitui West), Charles Nguna (Mwingi West) Gideon Mulyungi (Mwingi Central), Julius Mawathe (Embakasi South), Irene Kasalu (Kitui woman rep) and Rose Museo (Makueni woman rep).
Mr Musyoka claimed a win for any other candidate in the Thursday by-election would not only embarrass him but also cast doubts on his ability to consolidate the Ukambani vote block, which has remained loyal to him in the past several elections.
This assertion revealed a hidden confrontation between Mr Musyoka and Dr Mutua but seemed to have triggered a negative reaction from voters, with other candidates accusing the Wiper leader of stooping too low to engage in a “village fight” that has no significance to his presidential ambitions.
The candidates complained that as sons of Kitui, they had always supported Mr Musyoka but were disappointed that he is pitting them against each other instead of allowing them to square it out amongst themselves without undue interference.
Since the seat was declared vacant, the Machakos governor has not been to Mutonguni Ward but his candidate seems to be running a more organised campaign, reaping from Wiper’s blunders.
On Monday, more than 30 businessmen and MCAs from Kitui and Machakos counties joined Dr Mutua’s candidate where they addressed a dozen charged rallies in a last minute campaign offensive.
Led by Mwengi Mutuse, Governor Mutua’s chief of staff, the 40-vehicle convoy electrified the ward with the Chap Chap candidate exuding confidence that he will emerge victorious.
BEST FOR WARD
Mr Mutuse said the by-election is about who is best for the ward and that the voters should not be coerced by “big politicians” on whom to elect and that they will make sure their victory is not stolen again.
“Neither Kalonzo Musyoka nor Governor Mutua is running in this election, so choose a candidate who will serve you better at the county assembly. Do not vote to please a certain politician at the national level,” said Mr Mutuse.
On the other hand, the Wiper candidate, like the other seven contesting for the seat, made rounds in a convoy of three vehicles with Senator Wambua leading the party’s campaigns.
Mr Wambua said that their candidate, who came third in the 2017 elections, will reclaim the seat.
The decision by Governor Mutua to cleverly keep off the election campaign and Mr Musyoka’s heavy involvement has made the Chap Chap candidate the man to beat while also piling pressure on Wiper to avoid being embarrassed.
The by-election was occasioned by Mr Mati’s successful petition which dragged in the courts for almost two years. This was after the then Kitui West Constituency Returning Officer James Mbai erroneously awarded the election certificate to the wrong candidate who had lost in the contest.
Efforts by the IEBC officials to recall the election certificate a day after poll results were announced were thwarted when the loser, Felix Mbevo of Narc, rushed to court and obtained an injunction, triggering a series of suits and appeals.
During the hearing, the court was told Mr Mati emerged winner with 3,330 votes against Mr Mbevo’s 3,319 as compared to previous results of 3,071 and 3,273 votes respectively.
The matter was first heard by Kitui magistrate’s court which annulled the election prompting Mr Mbevo to appeal at the High Court.
The appeal was heard by Justice Lilian Mutende who upheld the magistrate court’s decision.
The returning officer testified that upon realising his mistake, he immediately wrote to Mr Mbevo directing that he surrenders the election certificate as it was erroneously awarded to him.
The “winner” however declined to comply with the IEBC directive, forcing Mr Mati to seek redress through the petition.
After the Court of Appeal nullified the election, Narc party led by Kitui Governor Charity Ngilu declined to nominate any candidate.
Mrs Ngilu said she will work with whoever wins the seat.
Mr Mbevo is not defending the seat.
Other notable candidates include Mr Alex Nzau (Jubilee) and Mailu Mulonzya (independent).
Court of Appeal judges Erastus Githinji, Philip Waki and Mohammed Warsame ruled that there is no legal room for an MCA election petition appeal to reach the Supreme Court.
While directing IEBC to conduct fresh polls, the three judges ordered Mr Mbevo to pay the costs of the suit to both the petitioner and the electoral agency.