Laikipia governor race is still open and could go either way. The political terrain seems to be changing following the withdrawal of three aspirants who had declared their candidature as independent candidates to back Nderitu Muriithi against Governor Joshua Irungu who is Jubilee’s flagbearer.
During the hotly contested Jubilee primaries, Irungu won though his opponents refused to concede defeat citing irregularities. Muriithi who is Mwai Kibaki’s nephew is set to run as an independent candidate with the backing of the two aspirants who have since chickened out of the race.
Sources say the man behind their withdrawal is Devolution cabinet secretary Mwangi Kiunjuri who is a sworn political enemy of Governor Irungu.
It is whispered that it was Mwangi who brokered a deal that led to the withdrawal of former Foreign Affairs permanent secretary Thuita Mwangi, James Mathenge and James Mwangi.
Other sources say that Kiunjuri worked behind the scenes but delegated senatorial hopeful Simon Mithamo who also lost the Jubilee Party ticket to John Kinyua. Kiunjuri being a civil servant has been playing his politics behind the scenes and has been pulling strings from behind.
It is also being whispered that Kiunjuri has made the three to enter into MoU that will see them occupy senior positions should Muriithi win the gubernatorial race. In the MoU, one of them will be the running mate while the other two are likely to occupy positions of county cabinet.
But even as the four gang up against Irungu, his lieutenants claim he is sure of retaining the seat and is banking on his track record as county chief for the past four and half years.
His rivals, however, accuse him of runaway corruption that has characterised his administration. They have also put Irungu on the spot over insecurity incidents that have rocked the county.
In a statement, Mwangi said he made the decision after learning that the Jubilee party tribunal was planning to nullify the contested nomination results.
“In light of this verdict, whose net effect is to disenfranchise and deny the vast majority of members of the Jubilee party in Laikipia county a political party avenue they had hoped and opted for, through a freely and fair elected nominee of their choice, I find myself with little option but to heed and obey the outcry and the loud calls emanating from Laikipia especially the thousands of my supporters who have urged me to vie for the seat of governor as an independent candidate,” he said.
The results showed that Muriithi was ahead but his competitors, including Irungu, insist the entire voting process was flawed.
Initially, Muriithi had gone to the Political Party’s Tribunal claiming the results had been doctored to favour the incumbent and demanded for retallying of the votes.
But the tribunal ruled in favour of Irungu, saying his win should remain as declared after the nomination.
Irungu had also gone to court to stop Jubilee from either cancelling the nomination results or issuing the nomination certificate to another candidate claiming Jubilee wanted to shortchange him in favour of Muriithi.
At some stage the Jubilee election officials ordered for a retallying of votes of two constituencies so as to announce the winner basing on the amendment but Irungu and his supporters warned them of unspecified consequences if they dare.
What later followed were attempts by the election board to order repeat nominations in Laikipia over claims of doctored figures, multiple voting and stuffing of ballot boxes.
Both Mwangi and Muriithi had separately claimed that the primaries were characterised by outright vote theft, deliberate delays and alleged voter intimidation by county government staff.
According to Mwangi, some 17 polling stations in Laikipia West constituency did not have ballot papers for governor and were opened after 6pm and that tallying of governor results from 22 polling stations had not been carried out by the time of announcing results.
The two also claimed that there were external forces meddling with the election to please an unnamed individual and that opposition supporters were mobilised to infiltrate the exercise.
Lobbying for the seat is said to have involved the high and the mighty. Apart from Kiunjuri, Kibaki is campaigning for Muriithi.
Muriithi is the son of the late Phillip Muriithi Kibaki, the elder brother of Kibaki. Kibaki was the chief guest when Muriithi was launching his manifesto for his bid to become Laikipia governor.
Despite having been missing from the political arena ever since he retired, Kibaki came out to speak during luncheons in Nyahururu and Nanyuki as a chief guest.
During the two meetings, Kibaki urged locals to vote wisely for leaders who would bring development to the county hinting that his nephew was a development oriented leader.
In the runup to Jubilee nominations, Kiunjuri had declared interest to run for the Laikipia gubernatorial race to face Irungu for the second time having been defeated in the last general elections.
During the last general elections, Irungu who flew the TNA flag garnered 83,678 votes against Kiunjuri’s 42,906 while Muriithi who was the UDF candidate garnered 19,176 votes. Kiunjuri withdrew from the race on alleged request from Uhuru Kenyatta who while in tour of Laikipia county, told the minister during a rally not to leave the cabinet for an elective seat.
“Please allow me to have Kiunjuri in my government for the next five years because he is among my strong political protectors. I will release him in 2022,” said Uhuru.
In Tuesday’s press briefing after distributing relief food in Ngaremara, Isiolo, Kiunjuri said he would not vie for any political seat. “I have been given an order and the chapter is closed and so I will not be vying,” he said.