At least eleven candidates have expressed their interest in the Bungoma senatorial seat.
The seat fell vacant after Ford Kenya leader Moses Wetang’ula quit to contest the National Assembly Speaker’s position, which he won, paving the way for a by-election.
Mr Wetang’ula was elected senator on August 9 for a third term, bagging 286,146 votes and trouncing five other contestants.
His opponents included Prof Charles Ngome (DAP-K), Mr Jacob Machacha (Federal Party), Rev Herman Kasili (UDP) and Mr Lawrence Sifuna (ODM).
Mr Wetang’ula was fronted by the Kenya Kwanza alliance for the Speaker’s seat, which he won after garnering 215 votes against his opponent, former Speaker Kenneth Marende, who received 135.
In the race
Among those salivating for the Senate seat are former Bumula MP Mwambu Mabonga; Mr Machacha, a former aide to former minister Fred Gumo; Mr Martin Ndiwa, who ran for governor in last month’s polls; Mr Bonewayne Nyongesa; and Bishop Kasili.
There is also renowned businessman Joseph Lendrix Waswa, Bungoma East Knut secretary-general Aggrey Namisi, Sirisia politician Moses Nandalwe, Bungoma businessman Ken Wafula, Mr Kasembeli Nasiuma and Mr Wetangula’s aide, David Wafula Wakoli.
Mr Wetang’ula has not declared his preferred successor.
Political analyst Isaac Wanjekeche says Ford Kenya, and Kenya Kwanza by extension, will put on a fierce fight to retain the seat.
"Depending on what candidate Ford Kenya fields, Kenya Kwanza will have the upper hand in the by-election," he said.
"The entry of new blood in the contest like Mr Waswa, who has a strong grip of the youthful cadre, might attract new dynamics in the contest."
DAP-K has not disclosed its candidate, with unconfirmed reports indicating that former Bungoma governor Wycliffe Wangamati may contest. The Nation could not reach him by phone for comment.
Mr Mabonga defended his Bumula seat under the United Democratic Alliance (UDA) in the August polls to Jack Wanami Wamboka (DAP-K).
The outspoken politician is a close friend of Dr William Ruto and there is a feeling he stands a greater chance of salvaging his political career if Kenya Kwanza throws its weight behind him.
He has hinted at the possibility of ditching UDA for Ford Kenya, which will increase his chances of capturing the seat.
"Right now, Mr Wetang’ula needs strong people in his Ford Kenya party that can walk with him as he prepares to take the Luhya community to State House in the future and we shall all walk with him," he said.
Rev Kasili of the Light House Gospel Church in Webuye, on the other hand, is counting on the backing of churches and the people of Bungoma, “who want someone sober, God-fearing and development-oriented”, in his own words.
“I will be seeking Wetang’ula’s support because he appeared to like me despite the fact that we were rivals in the August 9, 2022 elections. I believe the people will give me a chance to serve them this time round,” said Mr Kasili, who contested the seat on a UDP ticket in the last polls.
He feels that in the absence of former Bungoma deputy governor Prof Charles Ngome, who he said was one of the strongest candidates in the race, he stands a better chance to bag the seat.
Mr Namisi, who vied for the Webuye East MP seat on an ODM ticket but lost to Ford Kenya's Martin Wanyonyi Pepela, claims he is being pushed by a section of the Tachoni elders and residents to seek a truce with Mr Wetang’ula and vie for the Senate seat on a Ford Kenya ticket.
Mr Wafula, who was the ANC county agent in the recent elections, is banking on his experience in politics, while Mr Wakoli, a long-serving aide to Mr Wetang’ula, has also tossed himself into the race and is upbeat that the seat will remain with Ford Kenya.
Mr Wakoli, who was compelled by Mr Wetang’ula to drop his bid for the Kanduyi parliamentary seat and support Mr John Makali, who won, seems to be enjoying the backing of Ford Kenya MCAs and residents across Bungoma nine constituencies.
A teacher by profession, Mr Wakoli is confident that he will win Mr Wetangula’s support.
Also interested is Mr Waswa, who is popular among the youth and says he will ensure he keeps Bungoma Governor Ken Lusaka on his toes so that he doesn't embezzle taxpayers’ money.
Mr Elisha Wamalwa, a Ford Kenya member from Webuye, told the Nation that the Senate seat was automatically Ford Kenya’s and all others salivating for it under other parties are automatically disqualified on the grounds of party membership.
"It's all about party loyalty and how much you have invested in the party so far. Mr Wafula Wakoli has a head-start compared to the rest," he said.