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‘Big Three’ lock horns in battle for swing vote

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William-Ruto

Deputy President William ,Opposition leader Raila Odinga and President Uhuru Kenyatta

Deputy President William Ruto is on Sunday scheduled to make his sixth trip to Kisii since he was elected, a day after Opposition leader Raila Odinga called on youths in his strongholds to register as voters and ensure his party records maximum turnout in the election.

He said that with a high voter turnout, Cord was better placed to uproot Jubilee from power.

Mr Ruto’s trip to raise funds for a church comes barely four days after Mr Odinga met a delegation of elders from Kisii county led by Senator Chris Obure who assured him of their support in the next General Election.

The region was among the top beneficiaries of parastatal jobs announced by President Uhuru Kenyatta in April, with most of the appointees expected to escort Mr Ruto to the fundraiser.

The next elections may be two years away but political activity by President Kenyatta’s Jubilee coalition and the Opposition Cord strongly reveal an aggressive effort to seduce and control regions that could determine the 2017 outcome.

In a country where political mobilisation continues to revolve around regional blocs, there is a deliberate effort to win and retain support from mainly Western, Coast, the two counties of Gusiiland and the Maa-speaking communities.

And statements by Mr Odinga on Saturday, recent campaigns and interviews by senior members of his Orange Democratic Movement suggest they’re thinking ahead of the next election.

The Odinga strategy appears to be to lock Jubilee out of his traditional strongholds, push for massive voter registration and high turnout, as well as exploit the discontent among supporters of the ruling coalition especially the Maasai.

DANGLE CARROTS

Jubilee is keen to keep its main Central Kenya and Rift Valley vote blocs, pastoralists and to dangle carrots to swing areas such as Kisii, Western and Coast.

Political pundits say the Uhuru-Ruto activities can be said to be part of their responsibilities but the election motive cannot be ignored.

Already ODM has launched a quiet but massive voter registration campaign in its strongholds. ODM secretary-general Ababu Namwamba, who was in Kisumu on Friday to launch the campaign, said that although Mr Odinga’s strongholds had sufficient numbers to beat the Jubilee coalition, voter registration and turnout was their major headache.

On Saturday, Mr Odinga asked his supporters to not only come out to register but also ensure maximum turnout in the next election.

“It is very sad that Cord regions have registered low numbers of voters as opposed to Jubilee.  We need to change this if Kenyans want to see a Cord government in 2017,” said Mr Odinga in Siaya during the funeral of Joan Argwings Kodhek, the wife of independence politician Argwings Kodhek. He asked Cord politicians to rally behind the voter registration campaign.

“Good governance can only be achieved if all Kenyans have the ID and voters cards. The time for doing this is now and we should not take any chances,” said Mr Odinga.

Mr Namwamba told the Sunday Nation they had instructed all party officials to furnish them with status reports on the voter registration.

“We are targeting a 100 per cent registration in our key support base,” he said.

Mr Namwamba said ODM had failed to get to the presidency in its previous attempts because of its failure to maximise its numbers in the Western, Coast and Nyanza regions.

While the Jubilee administration appears to be using political appointments, title deeds and government projects to win favour, Mr Odinga has been hosting delegations from the regions and highlighting failures of the Jubilee coalition and crediting the success of devolved governments to a spirited fight by the Opposition.

In a sense, while President Kenyatta and his Deputy are claiming credit for gains mainly in the energy sector and infrastructure development, the Opposition is keen to run away with the gains of devolution such as massive expansion of rural roads, hospitals, water supply and agriculture, under the watch of its governors.

The Opposition Cord coalition controls 24 out of the country’s 47 counties.

BIGGEST HEADACHE

Moreover, the Opposition is keen to project the Jubilee administration as not only incompetent but squarely to blame for growing insecurity, near-collapse of the tourism sector at the Coast and the education sector in counties such as Mandera, Wajir, Baringo and Garissa where about 95 schools  have been closed.

The war on insecurity has led to the collapse of nearly 40 hotels in resort towns of Kilifi, Kwale and Lamu counties, leading to the loss of 40,000 jobs. The arrest of Muslim leaders at the Coast has also dented Jubilee’s image in the region.

However, Western and Coast could be the biggest headache for both camps. So far, Mr Ruto has visited Kakamega five times. The President has also been there twice and has made numerous trips to the Coast, the most recent being on Tuesday when he promised local residents 4,000 land title deeds.

Two weeks ago, Mr Odinga met elders from Kakamega County.

While the Jubilee and Cord leaders are fighting for Western, local politicians are busy trying to consolidate the Luhya vote with the aim of using it as a bargaining tool in the next election.

On Saturday, former National Assembly Speaker Kenneth Marende and Lugari MP Cyrus Jirongo announced the formation of a new political party.

Mr Marende, who was recently appointed chairman of the Kenya Power company board by President Kenyatta, said the United Democratic Party (UDP) will be used to enhance their bargaining power.

“We must have our own house and should not keep sheltering in other people’s houses. UDP is our own house,” Mr Jirongo said.

In what is seen as an attempt by Jubilee to penetrate the Luhya and Kisii communities, Mr Kenyatta recently nominated former western MPs Eugene Wamalwa (Saboti) as Water Cabinet Secretary, Mr Soita Shitanda chairman of the Agricultural Development Corporation, and Mr Musikari Kombo and Mr Raphael Wanjala to various boards.

And in Kisii, Mr Kenyatta appointed Mr Simeon Nyachae’s relative Judy Nyachae and son Kenneth Bitange to the Civil Aviation Authority and Export Processing Zones Authority boards respectively.

Others from Kisii who got State jobs were Ms Violet Omwamba (Lake Victoria South Water Board), Mr Christopher Ayienda, New Kenya Co-operative Creameries Limited and lawyers Ken Ogeto and Gershom Otachi.

JOBS GIVEN ‘TO CRONIES’

On Saturday, ODM leaders dismissed perceptions that President Kenyatta’s overture to areas dominated by Cord will adversely affect their numbers.

Mr Namwamba, Suna East MP Junet Mohammed and party director of political affairs Opiyo Wandayi said they were confident of winning the 2017 elections.

Mr Namwamba said that contrary to reports that Mr Odinga was losing grip in Western Kenya, he was the region’s most popular leader and appointments from the region will not adversely affect his numbers.

“Those appointments are a Kanu style of doing things. The jobs were only given to some families. What President Kenyatta did was give jobs to his cronies,” said Mr Mohamed.

But the Jubilee coalition is upbeat about 2017 and believes that their government performance and voter strategy will help their re-election.

According to Elgeyo Marakwet Senator Kipchumba Murkomen, Jubilee will bank on the success of devolution, health, additional police equipment and CCTV cameras for security, and the improvement of electricity connection to seek re-election.

“Our strategy is right and our mathematics is slowly falling in place. We have attracted many friends from most of those sides that did not support us in 2013,” said Mr Murkomen, a close ally of DP Ruto.

“Every voter will see and vote for what we have done. That, really, is what is at stake here and not other things people keep talking about,” he said.

-Nation.co.ke

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