The most significant period in the political calendar ahead of the August 8 elections begins in earnest this week with nominations in some of the most fiercely contested seats featuring big names firmly in the spotlight.
While the results cannot be predicted, what is clear is that some big names will remain in the political cold if they lose nominations — with limited options of being on the ballot available.
The perceived battlegrounds will be in Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) strongholds of Kisumu, Busia, Homa Bay, Migori, Siaya and the pro-Jubilee Party counties of Kiambu, Kirinyaga, Nyeri, Murang’a, Nakuru, Nyandarua and Laikipia.
Other places to watch are Nairobi where the battle for the Jubilee ticket will be largely fought out between former Gatanga MP Peter Kenneth and Senator Mike Sonko.
Another titanic battle will be in Kitui County where the incumbent, Dr Julius Malombe, is facing serious challenge from current Senator David Musila for the Wiper Party ticket.
Some of the areas are a headache to party leaders as they involve their key allies.
Indications that the primaries will be hotly contested emerged on Friday when supporters of the two contestants for the Busia gubernatorial seat on an ODM ticket — the incumbent Sospeter Ojaamong and Funyula MP Paul Otuoma — clashed, leaving one man nursing serious injuries. Both are strong allies of party leader Raila Odinga.
“This man has nine lives, I had planned to send him home today, only for the exercise (nominations) to be shifted,” Mr Otuoma told his supporters in reference to the primaries that start on Thursday.
Mr Ojaamong, however, insisted that his development track record will easily accord him victory in both the ODM primaries and the August 8 election.
In Kiambu, Governor William Kabogo will square it out with the boisterous Kabete MP Ferdinand Waititu in what promises to be a tough battle to grab the Jubilee Party ticket that almost guarantees victory in August.
Mr Kabogo has already indicated that he is ready to concede defeat if he loses fairly during the primaries scheduled for April 21.
“If we go to the nominations and I lose in a free and fair manner, I will give a break to politics and retreat to my businesses. But if the nominations will not be fair, then we will deal with it,” he said during a live television interview a fortnight ago.
Another titanic battle for the Jubilee Party ticket is expected in Kirinyaga County where Governor Joseph Ndathi is facing the battle of his life against former Devolution Cabinet Secretary Anne Waiguru.
The two hail from Gichugu constituency and this may prove costly to both of them on April 21 if Kirinyaga Central MP Joseph Gitari from the larger Ndia region marshals the votes from his constituency, Ndia, as well as Mwea to send them packing.
Asked whether she would bolt out of the party if she loses, Ms Waiguru retorted: “I do not plan to lose and therefore I do not have a plan B. I am the popular candidate in the county and all indications show that I am winning.”
Another hotspot is Kisumu County where Governor Jack Ranguma goes head-to-head with Senator Anyang’ Nyong’o for the ODM ticket on April 21.
It is a battle that could ruin the political career of either of the two combatants.
Recent opinion polls spell doom for Prof Nyong’o’s uninterrupted 25 years in Parliament as they put Mr Ranguma at 58.7 per cent against a modest 8.7 per cent for Prof Nyong’o.
“It is a commercially driven poll meant to serve the self-interest of the sponsor as part of his propaganda. Before this there were a series of polls that always put Ranguma way ahead. The figures are of course irrational,” Prof Nyong’o said.
But Mr Ranguma accused Prof Nyong’o of “purporting to have the ODM certificate in his pocket”.
“Let them not mislead the public that they have certificates because the party belongs to the people and it is you who will decide. I am confident I will carry the day during the ODM nominations on April 24,” Mr Ranguma said during a campaign rally.
The stakes are also high in Migori County where current Governor Okoth Obado faces a stiff challenge from former Cabinet Minister Ochillo Ayacko and Ms Anne Omodho, the wife of Nyatike MP Omondi Anyanga.
Last Monday, Mr Obado’s supporters violently disrupted a rally convened by Suna East MP Junet Mohammed, and which included Deputy Party leader Hassan Joho, protesting that it was intended to endorse Mr Ayacko for the party ticket.
“I know I will win the seat not because I have support of some leaders but because of my popularity,” Mr Ayacko said.
Another county where one big name must fall is Nairobi where the race for the Jubilee ticket pits Mr Kenneth against the abrasive and populist Mr Sonko.
Mr Sonko has repeatedly warned that he will not condone any attempts to rig the party nominations set for April 21 in Mr Kenneth’s favour.
“If I am disqualified, there are many parties. They want to push me to be an independent. I will not become an independent. I will listen to the voice of the people. I will join another party, even Nasa is a party,” he said.
Another high stakes battle looms in Murang’a County where the incumbent Mwangi wa Iria is battling for the county’s gubernatorial ticket with Kigumo MP Jamleck Kamau.
In Kitui, former allies, Dr Malombe and Mr Musila, are going head to head in the battle for the Wiper ticket in a race that could put the career of one of them on ice.
While Mr Musila enjoys the support of a majority of the sitting MPs led by Minority Leader in the National Assembly Francis Nyenze, Dr Malombe has put in place an elaborate grassroots network.
For instance, in each of the 247 villages in the county, the governor has a village council of seven members whose main job is to drum up support for him.
These teams report to the 40 ward development committees of five people.
In Embu, the battle for the Jubilee ticket for the gubernatorial seat is between the current Governor Martin Wambora and Runyenjes MP Cecily Mbarire.
The two, who have in the past faced off in the battle for the Runyenjes parliamentary seat, hail from the most populous constituency and are frontrunners for the post.
Both Mr Wambora and Ms Mbarire have vowed to remain in Jubilee Party in the event of a loss during the primaries.
Another battleground will be in Nakuru where current Governor Kinuthia Mbugua is facing stiff opposition from former Naivasha MP John Mututho and former Nakuru Town MP Lee Kinyanjui.
It is now widely believed that whoever amongst the three will win over the support of the Kipsigis vote will carry the day in the primaries.
The battle for the county’s senatorial seat during the primaries also promises fireworks with Nakuru Speaker Susan Kihika touted by many as the frontrunner with stiff opposition from seasoned politicians like Koigi Wamwere and former Molo MP Njenga Mungai and prominent lawyer Karanja Kabage.
In Nandi County, former Cabinet Ministers Henry Kosgey and Felix Koskei will battle it out in the Jubilee primaries with current Governor Cleophas Lagat in a race that has also attracted Senator Stephen Sang.
The entry of the two former Cabinet ministers has raised temperatures in the politically volatile county.
“Last time I was on the other side but this time round I am fully behind Jubilee. I am in Jubilee to stay and even President Uhuru Kenyatta and his Deputy William Ruto know that well,” Mr Kosgey said.
But Dr Lagat, who is seeking a second term, has expressed confidence in retaining the position on the grounds that he has initiated various development projects, which have transformed the county.
In Uasin Gishu, current Governor Jackson Mandago is facing a bruising battle with local tycoon Zedekiah Kiprotich Bundotich, alias Buzeki, in the Jubilee nominations.
Another bruising battle for the ODM ticket is expected in Taita Taveta County where current Governor John Mruttu is facing opposition from Wundanyi MP and National Assembly opposition whip Thomas Mwadeghu on April 18.
In Kilifi County, the battle for the ODM ticket for the Malindi parliamentary seat is between current MP Willy Mtengo and the abrasive Woman Rep Aisha Jumwa who, on Thursday, threatened to ditch ODM if she is denied its ticket.
Another hotspot is Bomet County where Deputy Speaker Joyce Laboso will face off with former MP Julius Kones to clinch the Jubilee ticket to contest the governor’s seat.
There is, however, a way out for those who will lose during the nominations as the law allows them to run as independent candidates.
“They have an option because the window for candidates seeking to run as independent candidates closes on May 5,” said IEBC Director of Communications Andrew Limo.
Reports by Justus Ochieng, Eric Wainaina, Wanjohi Githae, Mwakera Mwajefa, Kitavi Mutua, Barnabas Bii, Dennis Lubanga, Francis Mureithi, George Munene, Charles Wanyoro and Timothy Kemei.