By Raphael Wanjala
The rivalry between National Super Alliance (NASA) affiliate parties in the race for Bungoma governor’s seat played out in the presence of Opposition flag-bearer Raila Odinga.
The rivalry pitting ODM and Ford Kenya was so pronounced that it led to a commotion during the alliance’s campaign rally in the county.
Trouble started when Kakamega Senator Boni Khalwale tried to endorse Bungoma Ford Kenya governor aspirant Wycliffe Wangamati as the sole NASA candidate for the seat.
The move did not go down well with supporters of Alfred Khang’ati of ODM, leading to a scuffle, with the Orange party supporters heckling Khalwale and forcing him to cut short his speech. The commotion spread to the main dais where the principals were, with rival camps trying to outdo each other.
Efforts by Bungoma Senator Moses Wetang’ula, who is Ford Kenya party leader, to calm the situation did not bear fruit as the crowd started chanting Khang’ati’s name.
It took Raila’s intervention to calm the crowd, calling on the two rival camps to get their act together lest they lose the seat to Jubilee. Wangamati and Khang’ati are battling to unseat Kenneth Lusaka who is seeking re-election on a Jubilee ticket.
The tension in Bungoma between ODM and Ford-K has been simmering for a long time, with each camp claiming to have control in Bungoma County.
Ford Kenya has been claiming that Bungoma is its zone and that no other affiliate party should field candidates. Party County Chairman Wafula Wamunyinyi has been at the forefront calling for NASA affiliate parties to step down in favour of Ford Kenya candidates.
“Bungoma is a Ford Kenya zone and other parties must respect that. We are not fielding candidates in our partner parties’ zones, so they should not do that here,” he once said.
ODM fired back, saying they were the dominant party in the area and should be accorded respect.
ODM County Chairman Ali Majani said they had sacrificed for Ford Kenya several times and should not be treated as a junior partner in the alliance. Majani said the party sacrificed its candidate to support Wetang’ula in the Bungoma senatorial by-election in 2013.
Majani added that ODM had more representation in the County Assembly than Ford Kenya. “They should not think that they have the upper hand. We are more popular here and we will not be intimidated to back down,” he said. Their wars have been extended to whenever and wherever Raila attends a meeting in the area.
Two months ago, ODM, led by Raila, held a rally in Bungoma. Ford Kenya tried to gatecrash the event and turn it into a NASA rally, but ODM declined.
The organisers even denied Ford Kenya officials positions at the main dais, saying it was an ODM rally.
On Friday during a NASA rally at Posta Grounds in Bungoma town, Raila campaigned for Wetang’ula to retain his Senate seat. He urged voters to overwhelmingly back the Senate Minority Leader, promising to convince ODM candidate Boniface Nyongesa to step down.
But the party leadership yesterday dismissed this endorsement, with Majani saying it was wrong for Raila to support a candidate from a rival party, adding that they were not ready to sacrifice their candidate again.
Majani said they will ensure Nyongesa does not step down. He asked Wetang’ula to let other contestants vie instead of seeking endorsements.
“We are not going to sacrifice our candidate for any party. Our candidate will be on the ballot and Ford Kenya should realise that every candidate has a democratic right to contest for the seat,” he said. Nyongesa said he will not step down for any candidate and was in the race to the end. He said Wetang’ula was scared that ODM would defeat him.
“He (Wetang’ula) is a party leader and a principal, why should he seek an endorsement from our leader? He should understand that we as ODM helped him in the by-election. I am not backing down from this race,” he vowed.
Majani said Wetang’ula, as a NASA principal, was guaranteed a Cabinet post in the next government and should now relinquish the Senate seat.
In the NASA lineup, Wetang’ula has been slotted the Deputy Premier Cabinet Secretary’s post.
Majani said Wetang’ula’s decision to defend his seat was a sign he was not confident of a NASA win in the General Election.