The 2022 gubernatorial race in Meru between incumbent Kiraitu Murungi and Agriculture Cabinet Secretary Peter Munya is promising to be bruising, going by recent goings-on.
Woman Representative Kawira Mwangaza has also declared interest in the seat and promised “to show the two men dust”.
Her entry in the race is seen as complicating the calculations for the two men. But it is the events of the past three weeks that have heightened the political temperatures, with Mr Murungi unleashing his political arsenal on Mr Munya, who attempted to wrest control of the county assembly from him.
Ward representatives are regarded as an asset for grassroots political mobilisation.
Until his appointment into the Cabinet in 2018, Mr Munya was the leader of the Party of National Unity (PNU), which commands an equal strength at the 68-member House with the ruling Jubilee Party. Jubilee has 22 members and PNU 21, with the rest shared among smaller parties and nominated members.
CONFIDENT OF VICTORY
East Africa Legislative Assembly MP Mpuru Aburi, who has fallen out with Mr Murungi, believes that Mr Munya will win the seat in 2022. But Gideon Kimathi, Mr Murungi’s chief of staff is confident of victory like in 2017.
Political analyst Prof Herman Manyora says Mr Munya has a better chance on the national political structure being reshaped in the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI).
Mr Munya has said he is on a short “political leave” as he discharges his ministerial duties, with an eye on the seat come 2022, and his men have been on the ground consolidating his political base in preparation for the race.
So when the CS called a meeting of the MCAs at his Muthara home three weeks ago ostensibly to discuss agricultural matters, it raised eyebrows. He was deemed to have been trying to gain a foothold in the County Assembly to destabilise Mr Murungi’s administration.
The current wave of impeachment of governors across the country must have fuelled speculation that the same was being planned in Meru, especially considering that PNU and Jubilee have almost equal numbers in the House.
In response, Governor Murungi mobilised MCAs to castigate the CS for allegedly politicising development matters.
Three PNU ward reps who attended the meeting were subsequently de-whipped. Romano Mwito (Kangeta Ward), Kimathi Ithibua (Kiegoi/Antubochiu) and Gabriel Chokera (Mikinduri) were kicked out of committees, splitting the assembly down the middle.
Mr Munya’s men also came out guns blazing, accusing the MCAs of having been “bought”.
James Mutia, an ally of the CS who works at the ministry as a technical adviser, did not mince words.
"They chose money over development. The minister intended to outline his plans for tea, coffee and miraa farmers, but this was turned into politics," Mr Mutia told society leaders at the Meru Coffee mills.
But, in a show of might, the MCAs led by majority leader Victor Kariithi (Athwana Ward, Jubilee) accused the former governor of dividing the assembly on party lines and formed a 50-member inter-party caucus to push Mr Murungi’s development agenda and campaign for him in 2022.
The caucus’ first assignment was to reinstate the three members into the committees, which was executed by Muthomi Mbiuki (Igoji West, Jubilee) through a motion last Tuesday.
Mr Kariithi and Mr Mbiuki argued that the standing orders provide that each member be in at least one sectoral committee.
But minority leader Ayub Bundi (Abothuguchi Central), who is Mr Munya’s point man from Imenti Central and is said to be eyeing the deputy governor’s position, said the move would deprive Meru residents of delivery of services since oversight would be compromised.
The political rivalry between the two heavyweights seems to have raised concerns that delivery of services might be compromised especially in regard to completion of projects.
The past two weeks have seen visits by Cabinet secretaries Najib Balala (Tourism) and his Sports counterpart Amina Mohamed to inspect projects.
Mr Murungi, on whom they paid courtesy calls, said Transport Cabinet Secretary James Macharia would also visit to inspect road projects.