The battle for the Migori County governor seat has rekindled the political rivalry between Senator Ochilo Ayacko and former Cabinet minister Dalmas Otieno, who fought in a fierce contest for the Rongo parliamentary seat in 2007.
Mr Ayacko’s loss suffered at the hands of Mr Otieno was repeated when incumbent Governor Okoth Obado beat the soft-spoken lawyer in the 2017 contest.
However, Mr Ayacko’s Senate victory in the 2018 by-election following the death of Mr Ben Oluoch Okello gave him a new political lifeline. His eloquence and dominance in the Senate won him favour in the ODM party, earning himself a direct nomination to run for governor.
With nominations behind him, he now faces eight other aspirants for the top county seat.
Jubilee Party settled on Mr Otieno, former Migori MP John Pesa got the DAP-K ticket, while 28-year old Byron Oginga settled on LDP, all under the Azimio la Umoja One Kenya Coalition.
Others in the race are Ms Rebecca Maroa (UDA), impeached county assembly speaker Boaz Okoth, Mr Robert Kennedy Okong’o, Dr Philip Ogwari Mwabe and Mr Joseph Owuor Ngao, all eyeing the seat as independent candidates.
With about three months to the polls, campaigns have picked up in earnest as the aspirants traverse the county in search of votes amid talk of zoning.
Mr Ayacko’s campaign slogan Haki na huduma kwa wote (Kiswahili for justice and service to all, signifies his aim to offer impartial service to all county residents.
“Anyone who means good for the people of Migori must come through the main door and that is ODM. Those aspirants seeking the county’s top seat from other quarters are merely doing so to weaken Baba’s (Raila Odinga’s) influence in the area and will not succeed,” the senator said recently.
If elected, he said, he will run a corruption-free county and uplift the economy that he said had gone “down the drain”.
On the other hand, Mr Otieno says he is the most seasoned and experienced politician, capable of moving the county forward.
“The people of Migori can bank on my leadership to spur the much needed development in the county. I’ve done it [before] and my track record speaks for itself. I don’t necessarily have to be inclined to a party to deliver as the next governor,” Mr Otieno said.
Also to watch is Mr Pesa who, pundits argue, is likely to have an edge as both Mr Ayacko and Mr Otieno come from the sugar belt.
Mr Pesa is also banking on some of his legacy projects while he was an MP to woo voters. “I’ve always been a performer and that can be proven. I’ll steer Migori to greater heights as the next CEO,” he said.
Mr Robert Okong’o is banking on youths to clinch the county’s top seat.
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Under his slogan Paro manyien (new mentality), the aspirant has been organising sports tournaments targeting youths in the boda boda sector and the fisherfolk.
The tournaments have seen winners take home brand new motorbikes across the 40 wards while the fisherfolk won boats.
“Nobody knows who will be the next governor since that is a last-minute thing. The [majority] of voters are youths who are yet to decide the county’s next CEO,” he told the Nation.
The businessman says he’s coming up with a formula that will see him take over the county leadership come August.
“This time round, I don’t see Kuria as a battle ground for swing votes since the community have their own candidates. To me Suna East and West are the battleground,” he said.
He added that the looming zoning in Azimio may work in his favour as it will bar contenders from other parties in the coalition from vying.
But political commentators argue that Mr Obado’s succession remains a two-horse race between Mr Ayacko and Mr Otieno.
“Like any political contest, the race will be a two-horse race between Mr Ayacko and Mr Otieno now that the latter has declared his candidature. It’s going to be fiercely contested, especially if Mr Obado chooses to back one of the candidates,” Mr Dansam Ouma, a political scientist, said.
Mr Ayacko enjoys a cordial relationship with Mr Odinga while Mr Otieno has previously had frosty relations with ODM, and at some point formed his own political outfit, which the Registrar of Political Parties later disbanded.
Both have served in different Cabinet positions in previous administrations.
Analysts argue that the heightened political activities ahead of the main campaigns may jeopardise security in a county that has been marked with political violence in the past.
“The current political heat may degenerate into chaotic scenes if it’s not tamed. Politicians should engage in idea-based campaigns devoid of hatred,” Matiko Bohoko, a political analyst said.
Data from the country’s IEBC office indicates that of the eight Migori constituencies, Nyatike has 61,477 registered voters, Uriri (51,676), Kuria West (51,057), Rongo (48,412), Awendo (48,293), Suna East (46,534), Suna West (46,030) and Kuria East (35,154).
The total number has since grown to 454,954, awaiting verification and the gazettement of the list, which will also break down the new figures per constituency.
According to Mr Bohoko, the two leading constituencies are likely to tilt the voter landscape if aspirants field a common deputy to take on the bigwigs.
“What stands out here is the fact that whoever wants to succeed Mr Obado must seek support both from the dominant constituencies and the minority Kuria community. This has to happen even if it means forming alliances,” he said.
Mr Obado picked a running mate from the Kuria community and ended up winning.
Nominated MP Dennitah Ghati echoed Mr Bohoko’s sentiments. She noted that the Kuria community cannot be wished away in the quest for the county’s top seat.
“Whoever wishes to succeed in the governor race must nominate a running mate from Kuria, on that there is no choice.
“The community’s votes are the ultimate winner for whichever candidate,” Ms Ghati said.
Some contenders, like Mr Okoth, are already exploring the possibility of forming alliances.
“I’m galvanising the votes from my Suna backyard. We will work with like-minded people when the right time comes,” Mr Okoth said in a past interview.
Despite the myriad of court cases and graft allegations that have soiled Mr Obado’s reputation, some aspirants are hoping to seek his endorsement to counter Mr Ayacko’s rising influence.
The governor, who had earlier announced that he would vie for president, is creating anxiety in Migori after he started campaigning for Mr Pesa and Deputy President William Ruto.
Mr Obado has emphasised the need for the region to have more parties to promote democracy.
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