Uhuru, Raila, Ruto to lock horns in high-stakes Bonchari by-election in Kisii

Uhuru's entry complicates ODM strategy; ODM fears Jubilee trying to humiliate, isolate Raila on May 18

In Summary
  • Jubilee has for fielded former MP Zepedo Opore. ODM has fronted Pavel Oimeke. 
  • Ruto's UDA party has sponsored Oroo's widow Teresa Bitutu.
Deputy President William Ruto, President Uhuru Kenyatta and ODM leader Raila Odinga at the launch of the Building Bridges Initiative report at Bomas of Kenya on October 26, 2020.
Deputy President William Ruto, President Uhuru Kenyatta and ODM leader Raila Odinga at the launch of the Building Bridges Initiative report at Bomas of Kenya on October 26, 2020.
Image: PSCU

President Uhuru Kenyatta, ODM boss Raila Odinga and DP William Ruto are heading to a political showdown in the Bonchari by-election, posing a litmus test for the handshake.

For the first time, Uhuru's Jubilee Party is going into a bare-knuckle contest with Raila by fielding former Bonchari MP Zepedo Opore right in ODM's 'bedroom'. 

The by-election in Kisii will be on May 18.

Interestingly, Jubilee has previously declined to sponsor candidates in Raila's bastions, including in Msambweni, Kilifi, as a gesture of the President's camaraderie with the ODM leader.

Jubilee did not sponsor a candidate in the Kiamokama ward by-election on March 4 as well, handing Raila a major victory in which ODM retained the seat.

However, Jubilee's surprise move to field a candidate in Bonchari has been linked to a wider political scheme by some of Uhuru's power brokers. They are seeking to destabilise Raila's strongholds, minimise his national stature and reduce him to merely the Luo Kingpin.

Jubilee's move has raised the stakes for the by-election. ODM is expected to pull out all the stops to capture the seat and consolidate its grip on Gusii politics ahead of 2022.

"We are aware of a wider plot to keep Raila close to his turf only. They want to make Raila look like a Luo elder,"  a senior ODM official seeking anonymity said.

Pavel Oimeke who is expected to by the ODM flagbearer in the Bonchari by-election.
BONCHARI: Pavel Oimeke who is expected to by the ODM flagbearer in the Bonchari by-election.

The official said Raila was already aware of the scheme and will be going flat out to win the parliamentary seat to demonstrate his clout and durability to his critics.

The Orange Party has fielded Pavel Oimeke, the youthful former director general of the Energy and Petroleum Regulatory Authority. He is making his debut in politics after years of corporate governance.

The party will rely on Oimeke's youth, grassroots mobilisation skills and development track record through the many projects he has initiated in the constituency.

Aged 47, Oimeke could upset Opore, 71, and UDA's Teres Bitutu, 67. She is former MP John Oroo Oyioka's widow.

Oyioka was elected on the People's Democratic Party ticket but died last year, triggering the by-election. PDP is led by former South Mugirango MP Omingo Magara.

Oimeke, who resigned to vie for the seat, is said to have deep pockets, possibly giving him a head start. He is facing a corruption case in which he is accused of taking Sh200,000 from a fuel station owner. He is out on bond.

However, ODM has defended its choice, saying the Constitution presumes one innocent until proven guilty.

“The presumption of innocence until proven guilty is a cardinal rule. The party cannot convert to determine the veracity of the corruption allegations. Denying Oimeke a chance to compete because of a pending case will be akin to pass a guilty verdict,” ODM secretary general Edwin Sifuna said.

Political analysts David Ogega said ODM has a huge advantage in Oimeke.

"His presence has been on the ground through the projects he has done and unlike Opore, who has the baggage of ex-MP and claims of CDF mismanagement, Oimeke is seen as clean," Ogega said.

Kitutu Masaba MP Timothy Bosire speaks at Morako Primary School.
ODM TREASURER: Kitutu Masaba MP Timothy Bosire speaks at Morako Primary School.
Image: FILE

Politicians and analysts say Raila is under pressure to win the  seat to redeem his supremacy beyond Nyanza and fend off Ruto's charm offensive and hustler movement.

Raila's lieutenants are concerned that Uhuru's men are making a concerted effort to also elbow Raila out of the President's succession plan.

A loss in Bonchari would damage Raila's bid to consolidate his support outside his Nyanza turf, significantly diminishing his national profile as a formidable political force.

The ODM party is already smarting from a massive loss in the March 4 Matungu by-election in which its candidate David Were was trounced by Amani National Congress's Peter Nabulindo.

The Orange party had quietly protested that state machinery was deployed to prop up ANC boss Musalia Mudavadi in a strategy to reduce Raila's support in Western Kenya.

The Bonchari race poses a tricky situation for ODM as the President's men and women are expected to bank on Interior CS Fred Matiang'i to deliver the seat.


Kisii Senator Prof Sam Ongeri.
SENATOR: Kisii Senator Prof Sam Ongeri.
Image: FILE

However, ODM holds both county seats in Ongwae —  Senator Sam Ongeri, as well as nominated Senator Janet Ongera —which gives the party  the requisite political talent on the ground to deliver the seat.

ODM treasurer Timothy Bosire, who also hails from the region, is expected to join the team in campaigns to capture the seat.

“Throw in their recent victory in the Kiamokama ward by-election and the script is complete,” political analyst Collins Ajuok said.

“There is a school of thought that because this is Kisii, and the homeland of Interior CS Fred Matiang’i, Jubilee must field a candidate and the super CS must flex his muscles to show the President that he has his back in Kisii,” Ajuok said

On Thursday, Kisii Senator Ongeri said ODM  is poised to win the seat.

"ODM is ready to do everything that it takes to capture the seat," he said.

ODM is going flat out to assuage jitters among party members following the nomination of Oimeke.

The by-election will also be influenced by voting patterns among sub-clans within the larger Bonchari clan. The Riana is the largest voting block with more than 14,715 votes. It could be decisive.

Bomorenda is the second largest subclan with 14,532 votes, while Bogiakumu has 14,338 votes.

The Bomariba have more than 9,000 votes, according the official IEBC register.

Opore and Oimeke are from the largest Riana subclans of Bonchari constituency. Oimeke is relying on the support of former area MP and ODM stalwart Charles Onyancha to get the support of the Bogiakumu subclan.

Oimeke will be stressing his young age and grassroots empowerment projects to turn the tables on Opore, his main challenger.

UDA's Teresa hails from the Bomorenda subclan, as does former Kisii Woman Representative Mary Otara, who is running on the United Green Party.

Immediate former Kisii water executive John Momanyi pulled out of the  by-election after ODM picked Oimeke .

Momanyi, popularly known as JB, comes from the Bomariba subclan.

While Ruto will be seeking to penetrate the Kisii region through the UDA party after falling ou twith Uhuru in Jubilee, the parliamentary race is of a major significance for Raila.

Despite ODM enjoying considerable support in Kisii, the party's dismal 2017 performance in the region cost it three Parliamentary seats it had won in 2013. Jubilee won two seats in Kisii county in 2017.

Even in the neighbouring Nyamira county, Raila's party doesn't have a single parliamentary seat, while Jubilee has two.

In both neighbouring counties, ODM secured the woman representative seats as well as the gubernatorial positions in 2017.

Ruto, who been aggressive in trying to penetrate the Kisii region with his hustler movement, will be keen to test his fortune.

His hustler team from Kisii is led by Deputy Governor Joash Maangi and South Mugirango MP Silvanus Osoro.