Meru Governor Peter Munya. (Photo: Peter Muthomi/Standard)
The crowded Meru gubernatorial contest remains largely a two-horse race between the incumbent Peter Munya and his former political ally and Meru Senator Kiraitu Murungi.
How the race shapes up will be decided by a variety of parameters, including perceived development credentials, the Meru sub-tribe balance and party loyalty.
The contrasting personalities of the two leading contenders make the race interesting. While Kiraitu is seen as a consensual team player with cordial links at the ruling party, Munya is seen as a combative lone ranger but one that could strongly stand for Meru interests.
On party loyalty, Kiraitu who is the longest serving legislator in Mt Kenya East is largely expected to clinch the coveted Jubilee Party (JP) ticket while Munya is assured of the Party of National Unity (PNU) ticket, which he took over and is party leader.
Other candidates in the race include former presidential adviser on education Dr Kilemi Mwiria on a Maendeleo Chap Chap ticket, Dr Kiambi Atheru as an independent, Francis Kiriro on a Democratic Party of Kenya (DP) ticket and the latest entrant is 31-year-old Gatobu Kinoti who is the first term Buuri MP.
The region being an acknowledged Jubilee zone somewhat gives Kiraitu a head start. On the other hand, Munya faces the arduous task of assuring his supporters that he is not antagonising Jubilee.
This probably explains why he quickly disowned the endorsement of National Super Alliance (NASA) leader Raila Odinga during the former premier’s Meru tour last week.
Indeed, some JP leaders such as senatorial aspirant and Igembe South MP Mithika Linturi have been urging President Uhuru Kenyatta to make a declaration that his strongholds should only support the mainstream party’s candidate, which is seen as a real threat to candidates on tickets such as the PNU.
Linford Mutembei, the chairman of Mt Kenya Youth Forum, said the Meru race will be complicated and advises the aspirants not to write off any opponent at this point.
Mutembei says JP candidates critically need the support of President Uhuru Kenyatta and Deputy President William Ruto in Nyambene region which has five constituencies.
Munya, 48, and Kiraitu, 65, will also be jostling for the Meru votes based on local perceptions of their development credentials.
According to the senator, the proof of his credentials lie in the unparalleled development record he bequeathed his former South Imenti constituency during his four terms as MP (1992-2013).
For starters, South Imenti stands out as the most developed constituency not only in Meru but the whole of Mt Kenya East and according to the current MP Kathuri Murungi, it is an area that has a history of giving the incumbent another term when he delivers the goodies.
South Imenti has the best tarmac roads, best public health centres and schools, best planned markets and its three tea factories are in the top 10 most efficient small holder tea processing units in the country. Meru leads in banana production with the bulk coming from South Imenti including irrigated farms in Mituguu through water projects initiated by the Kibaki era cabinet minister.
“I will replicate this model throughout Meru if given an opportunity to be the Meru governor and we shall ban relief food supplies as we did in South Imenti because there will be no need for it,” Kiraitu is fond of saying during campaigns.
Recently, he said that he and his former Cabinet colleague Daudi Mwiraria and former Roads Permanent Secretary (PS) Erastus Mwongera lobbied and should be credited for all the road projects during the Kibaki government which took Meru to another level of infrastructure development.
Munya on the other hand claims he has done well as the first county head in Meru. His government claims it has spread the devolution fruits to the whole county, opening roads and clinics in places where the population used to travel far and wide.
His government has strived to avoid accusation of favouring any region with projects including cabro paving extended to markets such as Timau, Muthara and Muriri besides the big towns of Meru, Nkubu and Maua. When Munya goes out to rallies, he cites the names and number of employees from the locality.
“My advantage is that I am assured of votes all over Meru and I have the youthful stamina to take this area to the next level,” Munya has told rallies he has been holding in the nine-constituency county.
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His government also takes pride in projects such as the micro-finance corporation and saccos that have given financial muscle to previously unserved population. It also runs one of Kenya’s most elaborate secondary school scholarship fund covering the full costs for beneficiaries picked from all 45 wards.
The Meru sub-tribe divide is also expected to be a key factor on the outcome of the final ballot. Kiraitu comes from the populous Imenti sub-tribe which almost commands all votes in South Imenti, Central Imenti, North Imenti and Buuri. IEBC figures show that the four constituencies now have a combined voter strength of 365,688 or 48.4 per cent of Meru 755,461 votes.
Munya comes from the Tigania region that has two constituencies (Tigania West and Tigania East) with a combined voter tally of 152,079 votes (20.1 per cent). The other region is Igembe with three constituencies and 238,484 votes (31.5 per cent) according to IEBC latest statistics.
The statistics would seem to indicate that Kiraitu has a head start with the Igembe region of his key ally Linturi serving as the swing vote but then Igembe and Tigania constitute what is known as Nyambene region (the miraa growing area) that share historical connections and many common interests.
How Igembe votes will be a key determinant in the outcome of the Meru race but there are other emerging factors such as the entry of Maendeleo Chap Chap’s Dr Kilemi Mwiria and MP Kinoti who might cost some of the leading candidates some votes.
Munya has announced he is set to pick a running mate from Igembe and that too could swing a substantial vote block to or from his side. Kiraitu’s designated running mate Titus Ntuchiu is from Tigania.