Vihiga is one of the four counties that were created from the former Western Province, sharing borders with Nandi, Kisumu and Kakamega.
The county had 202,822 registered voters as at the last mass voter registration in March 2016.
The county is home to the Maragoli, who occupy Vihiga and Sabatia constituencies, the Banyole found in Emuhaya and Luanda and the Tiriki and the Nandi found in the cosmopolitan Hamisi constituency.
The county is led by Governor Moses Akaranga and represented in the Senate by George Khaniri.
The MPs are Alfred Agoi (Sabatia), Chris Omulele (Luanda), Wilber Otichillo (Emuhaya), Yusuf Chanzu (Vihiga) and Charles Gimose (Hamisi).
So far, the governor race has attracted three candidates and more are expected to announce their interest.
The incumbent Akaranga will defend his seat on his People’s Progressive Party against a strong ANC wave, spearheaded by its leader Musalia Mudavadi. ODM too has a significant presence at the grassroots.
Akaranga will face Emuhaya MP Wilbur Otichillo of ODM and Yusuf Chanzu of ANC.
Former PS Lodeki Chweya is also rumoured to be considering his entry.
The outcome of the August polls, at the county level, will likely be determined by the alignment of candidates from the Maragoli, Tiriki and Banyore subtribes.
The Maragoli’s are expected to play a role in determining the next governor because they occupy Vihiga and Sabatia constituencies, which constitute half the population in Hamisi.
The Banyore occupy Emuhaya and Luanda, while the Tirikis and the Teriks occupy half of Hamisi.
A survey on the political outlook in the county by the University of Nairobi’s political science and public administration department rated Akaranga at 60 per cent, Otichillo at seven and Chanzu at five.
But Akaranga’s failure to pay the over 300 contractors to amounts accumulated to over Sh2 billion in the past three years, corruption allegations in his administration and the opposition unity under NASA could complicate his chances.
“It is us contractors who have done the development Akaranga is taking credit for despite not paying us,” said a contractor who requested to remain anonymous for fear of reprisal.
Akaranga’s rallying point during the 2013 campaigns was a promise to ensure access to clean water and health services.
Akaranga is hoping to exploit a well-established network of churches in the county to put up a reelection bid.
Otichillo’s ratings have considerably declined after he refused to join Mudavadi’s ANC for ODM. He was initially seen as the best replacement for Akaranga.
Chanzu says he will ensure equitable distribution of resources and fairness in county jobs, improve access to health and education and water should he become governor.
He says he will guarantee food security for residents by prioritising agriculture.
All the three candidates from the Maragoli and the Banyore blocs appear to be keen on picking running mates from the minority Tiriki community, a move that will make the race more interesting.
Sources that sought anonymity say NASA is reaching out to the National Police Service Commission chairman Johnston Kavuludi to join the race and take a running mate from either Emuhaya or Luanda.
This is intended to tone down the inherent clan competition between the dominant Maragolis and the Banyores.
Vihiga Public Benefits Organisations Network chairman Victor Bulemi says Akaranga’s support base will drastically decline as he is bound to share the Maragoli bloc with Chanzu, a fellow Maragoli.
“Otichillo is consolidating the Banyore and could upset Akaranga if he picks a running mate from the Tiriki, who have no candidate. This will affect Akaranga’s and Chanzu’s chances because they will share the Maragoli vote bloc,” he said.
Bulemi said Akaranga has tried his best in the water sector by teaming up with the national government to implement a major water project but the health sector still faces problems, given the shortage of drugs in major health facilities.
WHAT THE PEOPLE WANT
He says that though the feeling on the ground is to have a youthful candidate, the voting formations still favour the old guard because the majority of voters who turn out to vote are older than 25.
Engineer George Mureya says the people of Vihiga simply want a working governor who will serve all residents, regardless of their subtribes, age and or their economic background. Muyera said candidates’ affiliation to political parties will obviously determine the outcome. Muyera opines that Chanzu and Otichillo will have to convince voters about what they have done as MPs even before their governor bids are considered.
“People are beginning to understand what the benefits of devolution are. They want to enjoy these resources and this will inform different voting patterns in August,” he said.
Political analyst Martin Oloo says Akaranga’s bid will be hurt by the fact that he is not in Mudavadi’s ANC.
“The incumbent’s survival trick of declaring support for Mudavadi without crossing over to ANC will not work,” says Oloo.
SUBTRIBES, NASA AND ODM INFLUENCE
He, however, says the subtribe factor may not be too pronounced in the governor race as this could pose a serious challenge to opposition unity under NASA owing to the strong presence of both ANC and ODM.
He says the scenario could for force a negotiated democracy where the three communities will have to discuss the sharing of key positions such deputy governor, woman representative and senator.
“Akaranga will shoulder the voters’ fatigue being the incumbent since he may not have performed to their expectations. That will provide thumbscrews for his opponents,” he said.
Oloo says Akaranga will be faced with another challenge — running against the unified opposition.
In his view, candidates opposed to Mudavadi’s new status as Luhya political spokesman will have to fight harder for their political future.
Oloo says Chanzu and Otichillo will come into the race with little or no baggage as opposed to Akaranga, whose four-year stay in office has generated a number of questions about his leadership style.
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