Divisions over the entry of soccer star McDonald Mariga into the Kibra by-election escalated Friday after Amani National Congress leader Musalia Mudavadi broke ranks with ODM leader Raila Odinga over which candidate to support.
Meanwhile, Mr Mariga’s candidacy split the ruling Jubilee Party down the middle, with some MPs rejecting his bid and vowing to support ODM candidate Imran Okoth.
Mr Mudavadi, who alongside Ford-Kenya leader Moses Wetang’ula, have been under intense pressure from the ODM leadership to withdraw their candidates in favour of Mr Okoth, hit back, maintaining that “Kibra was not Raila’s bedroom”.
Mr Mudavadi, through his press aide Kibisu Kabatesi, described as “garbage” the utterances made by ODM leaders in Kibra accusing ANC of betrayal over the Kibra mini-poll set for November 7.
“Unlike others who thrive [on] being compromise candidates under various coalitions, Mudavadi is the right candidate for Kenyans,” Mr Kabatesi said in reference to Mr Odinga.
ANC is fronting former Odinga campaign manager Eliud Owalo in the race while Ford-Kenya will field Mr Khamisi Butichit for the seat that fell vacant following the death of ODM’s Ken Okoth.
The by-election has also split Jubilee, with some politicians allied to Deputy President William Ruto supporting Mr Mariga while others are rallying behind Mr Okoth.
President Uhuru Kenyatta’s seeming endorsement of Mr Mariga was watered down a few hours later when nominated MP Maina Kamanda, who has emerged as Mr Kenyatta’s number one defender, held a meeting with Mr Odinga accompanied by some Jubilee officials and declared support for Mr Okoth.
Other Jubilee leaders who have vowed to rally behind Mr Okoth against Mr Mariga include Murang’a Senator Irungu Kang’ata and Gatundu South MP Moses Kuria.
Mr Kuria campaigned for ODM’s Benson Musungu, who lost in the nominations, and has vowed not to support the football star. “I will not support the Jubilee candidate, because I had my preferred candidate. I wish all the candidates the best,” he said.
For his part, Mr Kang’ata said: “(The late) Ken Okoth was my friend and I will be supporting his brother to succeed him because he has been working in Kibra for long and is the best-placed person to continue the legacy.”
Nyeri Town MP Ngunjiri Wambugu has termed Mr Mariga a Tangatanga faction candidate.
“We need to know that the Jubilee party, although it has two political factions, has one party leader, who is Mr Kenyatta,” he said. “Tangatanga had their candidate unveiled by the party leader and that’s why only leaders affiliated to the faction were present during the ceremony at State House.”
Mr Kamanda said he decided to openly support ODM’s aspirant because he believes Jubilee was not supposed to field a candidate in Kibra. “Ruto’s mission is not even to have Mr Mariga win in Kibra but to scuttle the ‘handshake’ gains by creating mistrust between the supporters of the President and of Mr Odinga,” he said.
But the Tangatanga group has downplayed the divisions.
“Mr Kamanda is just being true to himself and vindicating what we have always said that he is an ODM and Raila sympathiser,” said Kikuyu MP Kimani Ichungwa. “Let him do the honourable thing and leave Jubilee for ODM and relinquish our nomination slot for a deserving youth, woman or people with disabilities. ODM can nominate him.”
Speaking in Voi, Kirinyaga Woman Representative Wambui Ngirici hit out at Mr Kamanda.
“We saw a member of our party supporting an ODM candidate yet no one has asked him anything,” she said. “He was given the seat meant for the disabled yet he is not disabled.”
The MP, she said, had contravened the Political Parties Act and should be expelled from Jubilee. “We gave him the seat freely but now he is misbehaving, so he should resign”
Stories by Ndung’u Gachane, Derick Luvega an Nyambega Gisesa