Two parties that have dominated Nairobi politics in the past five years are once again neck and neck ahead of the Makadara and Starehe by-elections scheduled for Monday.
In the 2007 General Election, the Orange Democratic Movement and the Party of National Unity shared the city’s eight seats with ODM winning five.
However, PNU snatched the Embakasi seat through Ferdinand Waititu from its rival in a by-election following the killing of Mr Mugabe Were soon after his victory.
In Starehe, where voters will elect a fresh MP following a petition, ODM’s Margaret Wanjiru had dethroned PNU pointman Maina Kamanda, who now has a chance to bounce back.
In Makadara, the roles were reversed in 2007 as ODM’s Reuben Ndolo was ousted by Mr Dick Wathika of PNU. Mr Ndolo also successfully challenged the results in court.
There are 125,000 registered voters in Makadara, most of them in informal settlements.
Indeed, elections here are won or lost in the heavily populated slums of Mukuru kwa Njenga, kwa Reuben and Kaiyaba, Viwandani and Kiambio.
Turnout in the middle class estates like Buru Buru, Jericho and Jerusalem is usually poor.
Consequently, the victor will be the candidate who will manage to bring out the voters in the slums on Monday.
It is no wonder, therefore, that the candidates have spent a considerable part of their campaign time and resources in the slums doing among other mundane things, preparing ugali for families in Mukuru shacks.
Like in many other urban constituencies, the major issues here include poverty, joblessness and the deplorable state of public service delivery, especially in the slums. Voters will be hope that whoever wins will help tackle these challenges but nobody should be surprised if it will be business as usual until the next campaigns after the winner is declared.
The two main parties are seeking to boost their numbers in Parliament ahead of 2012.
“The fight is about numbers, especially given that ODM will be seeking to turn the tables on PNU after losing a number of by-elections in the recent past,” Nairobi lawyer and political analyst John Mureithi Waiganjo said.
The party lost in Matuga at the Coast and South Mugirango in Kisii, seats it was expected to win.
Mr Waiganjo says the by-elections also come at a time when ODM, whose party leader Raila Odinga, is at the forefront in pushing for reforms ahead of 2012 elections, requires numbers in Parliament to effect the changes.
The lawyer named Mr Ndolo and Mr Wathika who were on the same side of the referendum campaigns, as the front runners for the seat. But Narc Kenya’s Gedion Mbuvi, popularly known as Mike Sonko, could spring a surprise.
Mr Mbuvi, who intially sought the ODM ticket, has run a well-oiled, high-profile campaign that has excited many, especially youthful voters.
However, it is his alliance with Nairobi deputy mayor George Aladwa, the Kaloleni ODM councillor, that has been causing Mr Ndolo and the party sleepless nights. Although even PNU’s Wathika received a direct ticket, it is in ODM that the consequences of the nomination fallout are likely to be most felt.
Mr Aladwa, who was said to have supported the deep-pocketed Mbuvi for the ODM ticket, has been leading a rebel faction which may seriously dent the party’s chances of victory.
Last week, party leader Odinga was forced to intervene in the matter.
At a meeting called by the Prime Minister, Mr Ndolo and Mr Aladwa pledged to bury the hatchet and work together to win the seat for the party. But there has been little evidence on the ground to show the two are back together. Even the joint rally they agreed to hold is yet to happen.
Mr Aladwa is popular among the Luhya, a significant section of voters in the constituency, and the tension between him and Mr Ndolo can only hurt the ODM candidate.
But Mr Ndolo believes that he has an upper hand after reconciling with Mr Dan Shikanda, a former soccer star, who contested the seat in 2007 on a Narc ticket and who could also influence the Luhya vote. Pundits believe that had Mr Shikanda not broken ranks with Mr Ndolo in 2007, ODM would easily have clinched the seat.
Mr Ndolo’s campaign has also been bolstered after one of the PNU affiliates, Democratic Party broke ranks with Mr Wathika and backed him.
There are six other candidates in the race — Ms Lindy Wafula (Nuru Party), Mr Samuel Obiero (New Democrats Party), Mr Joshua Kitivi (ODM Kenya), Ms Stella Mbai (Ford People), Ms Consolata Kivuti (United Democratic Movement) and Mr Odero Abok (Social Democratic Party).
One of Mr Wathika’s key campaigners, nominated councillor Mutungi Mutunga, says his candidate has a better development record than Mr Ndolo, and all the other contestants.
“During his time, every secondary school received Sh1 million while every primary school got Sh450,000 for development projects. Bursaries have also been issued in a more transparent manner besides improving security in the whole constituency,” Mr Mutunga says.
Ms Wafula also expressed confidence of winning after conducting what she termed as “massive” door-to-door campaigns.
She has also used Facebook to connect with her youthful supporters.
“I have every belief I am going to win with a big margin. You cannot underestimate the determination of a woman,” she cautions her rivals.