Two women politicians will on Saturday battle it out with 12 male aspirants for the United Democratic Alliance (UDA) ticket in the Kandara constituency by-election planned for January 5.
The nominations have heightened political temperatures in the constituency, with Murang’a County Commissioner Karuku Ngumo saying on Thursday that “enough police officers” had been deployed to maintain peace and that no violence was expected.
Ms Lucy Ngugi, a former deputy Speaker of the Murang’a County assembly, and Ms Evelyne Waithera, who previously vied for the seat under Jubilee, are the only women in the nomination race.
Ms Ngugi had sought the UDA ticket in nominations for the Murang’a woman rep seat in the August elections but lost to Ms Betty Maina, who proceeded to win the seat.
Ms Ngugi, who is also the Murang’a Maendeleo Ya Wanawake Organisation chair, said that when she was defeated in the woman rep nomination race, she “heeded our party’s call to remain loyal and support the winner”.
“I hope Kandara people will consider my loyalty to the UDA party so far and love for women’s leadership,” she said.
Ms Waithera, who owns Kihoto FM, said she had jumped ship from Jubilee to UDA “and I’m looking forward to being embraced as a committed leader to make a difference in Kandara”.
The seat fell vacant after Ms Alice Wahome, who won a third term in the August 9 elections under UDA, was appointed Water Cabinet Secretary.
Celebrating the appointment, Ms Wahome said: “I thank the people of Kandara who had elected me for the third successive term. I thank them for standing with our UDA party. We have been rewarded with this Cabinet position and it is a big honour. We will remain steadfast in UDA and the people will decide who succeeds me.”
Ms Wahome won with 39,009 votes, joining Maragua’s Ms Mary wa Maua as the only two women to win in the county’s seven constituencies.
Kandara is the leading avocado producer in Kenya and is the only constituency that produced two Cabinet Secretaries in the current government. Besides Ms Wahome, it is also home to National Treasury CS Prof Njuguna Ndung’u, who hails from Gacharage village.
If a woman fails to win the by-election, Murang’a will have dropped from its 2017 ranking as the county with highest number of women parliamentarians, said Naivasha MP Jayne Kihara on November 6 when she attended a church function in the area.
In that year’s elections, Murang’a elected Ms Wahome, Ms Wa Maua and Ms Wangari Mwaniki (Kigumo). Ms Mwaniki lost in the August 9 polls and it is feared the number of women parliamentarians in the county might drop further in the Kandara duel.
The battle for the UDA ticket has been billed as a do-or-die affair because whoever wins it will be perceived to have a head-start in bagging the seat.
Kandara has 105,148 registered voters spread out in six wards – Ng’araria (13,776), Muruka (16,240), Kagundu-ini (19,129), Gaichanjiru (16, 280), Ithiru (18, 335) and Ruchu (21,388).
A strong showing for the ticket is expected to come from Mr Chege Njuguna, who emerged second with 19,260 votes in the August 9 elections under Chama Cha Kazi (CCK), a constituent party of the Kenya Kwanza coalition.
“With Ms Wahome now elevated, I strongly believe it is my turn to move up to succeed her. We have to belong to the government and we are treating the nominations as the by-election itself,” he said.
He added that voters must be allowed to pick their preferred leader because “we want to let the voter own the nominations and the by-election”.
He wants “to mobilise high turnout so that we can lock all other political parties out of a possible win [and] deliver the seat for President William Ruto and the Mt Kenya kingpin, who is also the Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua”.
Mr Gachagua has declared that he will wait until voters pick an aspirant before he goes “to the ground to campaign so that we can retain this seat”.
Former Murang’a deputy governor Maina Kamau, who received 3,188 votes in the last elections, will also be in the race.
“My prayer is that we give the voter the exclusive right to decide their preferred candidate. We should not have an imposed candidate, because that might weaken the party,” he said.
Others in the race for the UDA ticket are Injini Kamau, Ndaaru Karanja, Mbucu Njau, Kimani Njoroge, Ngacha Kinuthia, Maina Ndirangu, Mwaura Kamene, Kihanya Ngugi and Kibe Ndung’u.
Some voters have expressed concerns that Ms Wahome’s influence appears to favour one of the candidates.
Mr Joseph Ndegwa, a political commentator in the constituency, said “the ground has resisted many moves to force direct ticketing for the by-election [and an] imposed candidate”.
Anyone planning to corrupt the nominations, he warned, should think twice because voters have decided to elect good leaders not “party or big guns protégés”.
Ms Wahome, speaking in Kandara on Tuesday, said that whoever wins the nominations “is as good as the next MP to succeed me”.
She said she would not interfere with the nominations or the by-election itself.
“I will leave Kandara people to make their choice and after they give the UDA party their preferred aspirant, we will hit the ground to campaign for him or her,” she said.
Political analysts in the area say Ms Wahome will be critical in deciding who succeeds her because “she remains an interested party for UDA, the government and herself”.
But because she had been elected for two successive terms and was on the verge of starting a third, it was possible that area voters “had started expressing fatigue about electing her”, said Bishop David Mburu of the African Israel Church in Kandara.
Gender is also a factor, with some interested parties dismissing it as activism.
The people of Kandara “deserve the best possible leadership picked in a democratic process without invoking gender emotions,” said Ms Susan Mwangi, area representative for the Federation for African Women Educationalists (Fawe).
The leading challenges in the constituency are insecurity, extortion in the public transport sector, defilements, stock thefts, lack of adequate safe drinking water, land injustices, alcoholism and drug use, police corruption and school dropouts.
“We cannot afford to get it wrong in the Mt Kenya region, whose voting pattern in the last General Election made it very clear that residents loathe leaders being forced on them,” UDA director of elections Anthony Mwaura, who hails from the constituency, told Nation.Africa on Thursday.
To that end, he said, the party is under strict orders from the President to “ensure that we involve the party structures to let Kandara people own the by-election”.
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