Voters in Migori go to the polls today to elect their new senator in a by-election whose outcome could change Nyanza’s political matrix. The by-election will be an acid test for ODM Party leader Raila Odinga, who spent two days campaigning for the Orange Democratic Movement party candidate, Ochillo Ayacko.
This was days after it emerged that Ayacko’s closest challenger, youthful businessman Eddy Muok Oketch of the Federal Party of Kenya, had gained unprecedented popularity. The ODM brigade was yesterday crossing its fingers ahead of today’s by-election as the outcome of the polls could either confirm or dismiss claims that the party was slowly losing ground in the southern Nyanza region. The Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) said it was all set for the by-election as County Police Commander Joseph Nthenge announced elaborate security arrangements. The seat fell vacant after the death of Ben Oluoch Okello in June. Interestingly, Migori will be going to the polls on the same day its governor, Okoth Obado, who is in custody over the murder of university student Sharon Otieno, will be returning to court to seek release on bail.
Even though Obado, who had broken ranks with his party because of Ayacko’s direct nomination, has been behind bars for nearly a month, it is claimed that he has been remotely controlling political happenings in the county. Raila has acknowledged that Mr Oketch was no pushover. “Kindly don’t let me down. I have personally come to you. If you elect Mr Ayacko, you would have made me and the party proud,” Raila said during his last campaign day on Friday.
The by-election has become a complicated and delicate political affair for ODM, given that the hand of Deputy President William Ruto was being seen in it. Ruto is said to be enjoying massive support in the two Kuria constituencies, which are part of Migori County. Although Kuria East MP Marwa Kitayama is supporting Ayacko, his Kuria West counterpart, Mathias Robi, is supporting Oketch. Observers said it was claims that Ruto was making inroads in Migori that made Raila pitch camp there for two days. Mr Robi had argued that Oketch was the best bet and has been trying to market him in Kuria West after Kitayama led the Ayacko campaign. The 86,000 registered votes in Kuria could tilt in favour of either Oketch or Ayacko. Raila, MPs, and Minority Leader John Mbadi and Deputy Chief Whip Mohammed Junet went to boost Ayacko’s chances of winning. Oketch has denied claims he was being funded by Ruto, saying his campaign funds came from fellow youth and friends.