Busia County is set for a tight senatorial election battle pitting two National Super Alliance affiliate parties.
The incumbent, Senator Amos Wako (ODM), and human rights activist Okiya Omtatah (Ford-Kenya) are the frontrunners.
Both were given direct tickets.
OMTATAH AND WAKO
ODM leader Raila Odinga is Nasa’s presidential flagbearer while Ford-K is led by his co-principal, Bungoma Senator Moses Wetang’ula.
The race will also feature Mr Ali Abdi Noor (Jubilee), Mr Hillary Mainga (Movement for Development and Growth), Mr Francis Omala (Rebuild and Restore Kenya), Mr Joel Omulepu (United Development Party), Ms Karen Kassam (Labour Party of Kenya) and independent candidates Felix Egessa and Lone Felix.
The entry of Mr Omtatah, who has marshalled a following at the grassroots, has upset the apple cart in what was expected to be a smooth ride for the former Attorney-General.
Matters have further been complicated for Mr Wako following his differences with Governor Sospeter Ojaamong.
Mr Wako and Mr Ojaamong are ODM candidates but the senator resorted to a lone-ranger campaign while dismissing the six-piece voting pattern championed by the party leader.
That has ruffled feathers in the governor’s camp, which is contemplating endorsing Mr Omtatah’s candidature.
With the activist under the wings of the governor, also a distant cousin, he is banking on the Teso vote.
Mr Ojaamong hails from Teso South Sub-County, which has 61,342 registered voters, while Teso North has 49,833 for a bloc tally of 111,175.
Busia has 351,048 registered voters.
Both candidates come from the Luhya community.
Mr Omtatah, a member of the Abaaguri clan in Nambale Constituency, believes he can bite off a huge chunk of Mr Wako’s Luhya-dominated sub-counties, where he is most popular.
The senator is from the Abaakhabi clan in Matayos, a constituency with 56,841 registered voters, while Butula has 57,685, Funyula 44,671, Nambale 42,259 and Budalang’i 38,417.
The governor has accused Mr Wako of playing mind games with party members and leaning towards his rival and independent candidate Paul Otuoma.
“Senator Wako is telling us he is looking for his votes alone yet he is in ODM,” Mr Ojaamong said at the launch of his scorecard and manifesto in Butula Sub-County on Sunday.
“We are giving him a one-week ultimatum to return to the party or work with independents and seal his fate.
“What he is doing is causing Raila unnecessary stress. He has been in government for more than 20 years but has nothing to show for it.
“Wako should either work with us in ODM or join Jubilee, else…mpatie huyu Omtatah wa minyororo (vote for Omtatah, who is famous for chaining himself during protests).”
But Mr Wako reiterated his commitment to the Orange party and the opposition coalition Nasa.
But at Kolanya and Changara in Teso North, Mr Wako dismissed the governor’s claim that he had sidelined the party that took him to the Senate.
“I am an ODM life member. No one can order me to leave the party. I will continue selling ODM agenda. I ask you to elect Raila Odinga as Kenya’s fifth President and Wako for a second term.
“I have come here alone to ask for my votes. Let them do the same. Base your choice on individuals’ development record,” Mr Wako said.
The former AG added: “My love for the Teso community dates back to the 1950s and when I was the Attorney-General.
“I elevated two sons of Teso — Alex Etyang and Mathew Emukule — to High Court judges.”
Mr Wako cited his pivotal role in the creation of Katakwa Diocese, Teso North and Teso South sub-county status.
“I have played my oversight role effectively. In 2013 and 2014, we were on the verge of losing Sh1.4 billion because the government map classified Teso in Bungoma but I ensured the money was returned.
“Whether the money was utilised well or not, I urge you to ask your governor,” Mr Wako said.
The remarks were a follow-up on the Senate’s Public Accounts Committee report in March that said the county government had embezzled Sh354 million.
Mr Ojaamong however denied the claim, saying the county government had satisfactorily responded to queries by the Auditor-General.
Despite the battle, experts still have a feeling that Mr Wako has an upper hand against his opponents.
Prof Okumu Bigambo, a lecturer at Moi University’s School of Human Resources and Development, said Mr Wako’s long experience in government gives him the edge.
He warned that rivalry between senators and governors will hurt devolution.
“Governors feel they are kings of devolution because they have the power to control resources in the counties,” he said.
“Senators, on the other hand, play the oversight role.”