Why Sonko court victory is political game changer
Three judges yesterday ordered the electoral commission to clear former Nairobi governor Mike Sonko to run for the Mombasa governor’s seat in a move that could have far-reaching ramifications on the Coast county’s and national political landscape.
Sonko is considered a serious contender for the Mombasa seat, which, until yesterday’s ruling, appeared to lean towards ODM’s Abdulswamad Sharrif, the Mvita MP.
In their judgment, High Court judges Olga Sewe, Ann Ong’injo’ and Stephen Githinji ruled that the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) had no grounds to block Sonko from vying.
They noted that his impeachment case was yet to be concluded at the Supreme Court and, therefore, IEBC’s move to bar him was unconstitutional.
The law provides that an aspirant or candidate with an active court case cannot be barred from seeking elective office.
On June 7, however, Mombasa County Returning Officer Swalha Ibrahim Yussuf declined to clear Sonko, arguing that he had been impeached by the Nairobi County Assembly in 2020.
“We direct that the first and the second respondents accept the nomination papers submitted by the petitioner and each party shall bear own cost,” said judge Sewe.
The court’s decision came after the case’s ruling date was brought forward from Friday to yesterday.
Earlier in the week, IEBC had asked the Judiciary to speed up poll petitions to pave way for the printing of ballot papers.
On Tuesday, Sonko joined President Uhuru Kenyatta in campaigning for Azimio-One Kenya Coalition in Nairobi, a day after candidates eyeing the governorship of the capital held a televised debate.
Azimio’s Polycarp Igathe and Kenya Kwanza’s Johnson Sakaja are front-runners in the race.
Sonko’s presence in the campaign was seen as move aimed at energising the Igathe campaign.
His clearance to vie complicates the political arithmetic for Azimio, which now has two strong candidates; Sonko and Abdulswamad. The two will face off with Kenya Kwanza’s Hassan Omar.
During President Uhuru Kenyatta’s Tuesday tour, Sonko’s presence sparked speculation that he was back in the President’s good books.
Spotting his trademark casual wear, Sonko was even given an opportunity to issue title deeds to Nairobi residents and address a gathering.
To further symbolise the rapprochement, Sonko was later seen in the presence of Azimio presidential candidate Raila Odinga and his running mate, Martha Karua who officially accepted him to the alliance and symbolically gave him a cap.
Sources said the involvement of Sonko in Uhuru’s tours was intended to shore up the ratings for Igathe.
Igathe is said to be trailing with the latest opinion poll conducted by Infotrak Research showing that his main challenger, Sakaja, was the most popular candidate at 39 per cent with Igathe following at 33 per cent. The survey showed a large number of undecided voters, who can still swing the election either way.
Yesterday, the judges led by Justice Githinji ruled that IEBC acted unfairly by locking Sonko even after he had satisfactorily met all requirements.
They said IEBC had been unreasonable for refusing to accept certified copies of Sonko’s academic certificates outside the stipulated timeline, saying that was not a basis to lock him out.
In their one-hour judgment, the judges said IEBC violated Sonko’s rights. IEBC has requested to lodge an appeal against the judgment.
The court’s decision sets the stage for a battle royale in the Mombasa governor’s race with Sonko’s return likely to pose a tight competition for Abdulswamad, who is seen as the frontrunner.
It will also intensify the supremacy battle in the Coastal city considering that the incumbent, Ali Hassan Joho, had endorsed Abdulswamad.
Joho is serving his final term. He has already been promised a slot as Lands CS if Azimio wins. If that happens, he will serve at the national level. If Azimio does not win, his influence in Mombasa will still be affected. Either way, Sonko will emerge as a formidable force in Mombasa politics.
With just over three weeks to the August 9 polls, Sonko’s entry will also cancel out attempts by Wiper – his sponsor party — to replace him with former ambassador Kiema Kilonzo, who rejected party leader Kalonzo Musyoka’s request to drop his bid for Kitui governor and instead be the party’s candidate in Mombasa.
Mombasa politicians have previously criticised Sonko’s move to gun for the governor’s seat there, saying the county was not a dumping ground for tainted politicians. They were referring to Sonko’s impeachment.
In May, while reacting to reports that Sonko would switch his political base from Nairobi to Mombasa, Joho criticised Wiper for granting Sonko a direct ticket for a region that had been zoned out for ODM.
He said ODM had decided to back Abdulswamad.
“We want a leader who can easily unite the people of Mombasa and do even better than the current administration, which I lead. That person is Abdulswamad Shariff Nassir,” said Joho at the time.
Abdulswamad said Mombasa voters were not for sale.
“Let them stop such wishful thinking. We will go full throttle to ensure ODM retains all elective seats in Mombasa,” he said.
A Sonko victory risks upsetting ODM’s long standing dominance of Coast politics and Joho’s stature as the region’s kingpin.
Speaking after yesterday’s judgment, Wiper chairman Chirao Ali Mwakwere said Sonko many residents were tired of ODM leadership.
“Mombasa people deserve better leadership which will be delivered by Wiper,” he said.
Sonko had moved to the High Court to contest the IEBC Dispute Resolution Committee’s decision that locked him from contesting. He was locked out of the race on the grounds that both the County Assembly of Nairobi and the Senate impeached him over gross misconduct.
Speaking outside the Mombasa law courts yesterday, outgoing Kisauni MP Ali Mbogo — also Sonko’s running mate — asked their opponents to brace for a bruising battle on August 9.
“We want to tell our people that we have only one task ahead; that is on August 9; to vote, let’s get ready to show them dust,” Mbogo said.