Why Raila, Ruto are pulling all stops in Kibra by-election

Wednesday, November 6th, 2019 14:00 | By

The battle for the Kibra parliamentary seat has been turned into a test run for the 2022 presidential contest and possible referendum out of the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI).

The by-election has fuelled the rivalry between Deputy President William Ruto and Opposition leader Raila Odinga with the two throwing everything—resources, foot soldiers, time and energy—into  the “battle for the bedroom”. 

The mini-poll featuring ODM candidate Imran Okoth, Amani National Congress (ANC) candididate Eliud Owalo and Jubilee’s McDonald Mariga as the frontrunners is seen as a curtain raiser for a Raila-Ruto contest in next election. 

Imran is the brother of Ken Okoth, whose death in July occasioned the by-election while Mariga is a former international footballer. Owalo, a former raila aide, is an entrepreneur.

Political structure

While a win for the ODM candidate would be a confirmation that Raila still holds sway in his “bedroom” which he represented in Parliament for two decades,  victory for the Jubilee candidate would be a huge triumph for Ruto.

The victory would be more significant considering a Jubilee candidate, Nixon Korir, won the other half of Raila’s former Lang’ata constituency in the 2017 election.

Besides the 2022 election overtones in the Kibra by-election, the BBI report—which is yet to be released—has also been coming up in the campaigns.

Ruto is opposed to BBI over concerns that it might come up with proposals that could alter the political structure to his disadvantage.

Raila, however, backs the initiative born out of his truce with President Uhuru.

Pundits argue that a win for Jubilee in Kibra would re-energise Ruto to oppose the BBI proposals if subjected to a referendum. Victory for the DP could also project him as a national politician with influence beyond his Rift Valley power base.

On Sunday, BBI featured prominently when Raila led several politicians, including four governors, in a rally in the constituency. It also came up in a parallel rally addressed by the Deputy President and his allies a few kilometres away.

“The Kibra race is a competition between reformists and anti-reformists. It is between peace lovers and proponents of chaos. It’s between those who have embraced the Handshake and those against it,” Raila said at Woodley Grounds, two kilometres from where Ruto was addressing Jubilee supporters.

He was accompanied by governors Anne Waiguru (Kirinyaga), Charity Ngilu (Kitui), Alfred Mutua (Machakos), Kivutha Kibwana (Makueni) and James Ongwae (Kisii). He accused the DP of opposing the Handshake and the BBI and asked the voters to shun Mariga.

Speaking at his Jubilee rally, Ruto dismissed persons calling for a referendum on the Constitution, saying Kenyans are only interested in development. 

“Those calling for a referendum should give us a break so that we can concentrate on the development agenda that the Jubilee Party promised the people. We are all aware that the referendum debate is about politicians who are looking for power but that is not what Kenyans want,” Ruto said.

He said Mariga represented change for the people of Kibra now and beyond the 2022 election.

The DP used the campaigns to question Raila’s development record when he served as area MP between 1992 and 2012.

He also promised that the Jubilee administration would transform the constituency if residents vote for Mariga in tomorrow’s election.

Raila insisted the presence of governors from several parties at the ODM rally demonstrated the popularity of BBI and the reforms it is expected to propose.

“We want reforms that will end tribalism, corruption, election violence, youth unemployment and bring peace and unity  among all Kenyans,” said Raila.

Waiguru told the rally that the country is now peaceful because of the Handshake.

She said Imran was the Handshake candidate and urged residents to vote for him as an endorsement of the unity deal between Uhuru and Raila.

Except for a meeting with the Jubilee candidate Mariga at State House at the start of the campaigns, the President has taken a neutral stand in the contest. Besides Waiguru, other Jubilee politicians including Nominated MP Maina Kamanda are backing the ODM candidate. 

“After the by-election, we will turn our focus on the BBI because that is where the next government will come from,” said the Jubilee governor.

Waiguru also dismissed Ruto’s promise of development for Kibra people, saying it was a mere bait.

Ngilu, Kibwana and Mutua, who are believed to have been roped in by ODM to appeal to the Kamba vote, also told the rally they support the Handshake and BBI because it promises peace and progress for the country.

Promote equity

Mutua said the three Ukambani governors were the bona fide spokespersons of the Kamba community. “Unity of purpose is what we seek. A win in Kibra will change the narrative and move this country forward,” said Mutua.

Ngilu said their presence was a sign that they were ready to team up with Uhuru and Raila in the 2022 election. “We are here because we want Uhuru and Raila to show us the way in 2022 and nobody will come between them,”  she said.

She added: “If you are not here with us, where are you and what are are you doing?” Ngilu posed.

But the Leader of Majority in the National Assembly Aden Duale accused Raila of using the BBI to divide Kenyans along political lines. “We shall only support the BBI report if it will promote equity in sharing of resources and promote peace in the country,” he said.

Duale was, however, recently quoted saying he supported the proposal for a parliamentary system of government which Raila has been advocating for.

Tomorrow, some 118,658 voters in Kibra are expected to go to the polls to elect their next MP from among the 24 candidates. But they could also be unwittingly choosing Kenya’s next leader and governance system.

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