United Democratic Alliance (UDA) faces an acid test in the battle for the Moiben constituency seat from two independent candidates.
The party, which enjoys fanatical support in the region, is advocating six-piece voting in a bid to win majority seats in the National Assembly and the Senate.
The agriculturally-rich constituency has attracted three candidates.
UDA’s Prof Phyllis Bartoo, who is making her first stab in elective politics, is squaring it out with seasoned politicians Silas Tiren, the incumbent, and Joseph Lagat, both contesting as independent candidates.
While Mr Tiren did not participate in the UDA primaries after he was branded a rebel out to scuttle Deputy President William Ruto’s State House bid, Mr Lagat, a former legislator, turned independent after he was knocked out in the party primaries.
Moiben is one of the six constituencies in Uasin Gishu County.
It was carved out of the larger Eldoret East constituency, which was divided into Moiben and Ainabkoi constituencies.
The constituency is mainly inhabited by the Keiyo sub-tribe of the Kalenjin community.
Among the legislators who have represented the expansive constituency are Prof Margaret Kamar, who is the current Uasin Gishu senator, and Mr Lagat.
The constituency has 77,877 registered voters. Kimumu ward has the largest number at 25,044 voters followed by Tembelio (15,237), Moiben (14,350), Karuna/Meibeki (12,979) and Sergoit (10,267).
Prof Bartoo promises to offer fresh leadership to transform the agriculture sector.
“I shouldn’t be [seen] as a greenhorn in politics having been brought up here where agriculture is our livelihood. It’s the suffering of our people that drove me out of the lecture hall in order to offer solutions to some of these problems,” the professor of linguistics at Egerton University said.
The don hopes to create linkages with regional and international agricultural organisations to offer farmers modern production technologies and [reliable] markets for their produce to earn better returns.
“Agriculture remains our traditional source of income and food security. However, there is need to protect local farmers against unfair competition from cheap imports,” she said.
Prof Bartoo promises to champion reintroduction of guaranteed minimum returns (GMR) to cushion farmers from losses caused by drought and floods.
She also wants to promote partnerships with agricultural institutions to transfer knowledge to farmers to increase productivity.
Prof Bartoo admits that male chauvinism remains a challenge in elective politics but urges women to play an active role in overcoming the vice.
“Male chauvinism and profiling remains our political shortcoming. We’re, however, living in a just world where injustice is no longer entertained,” she said.
UDA, she added, is dominant in the region and she’s confident of flooring her opponents come August 9.
“Women have exhibited impressive leadership qualities in different fields and I’ll not be an exception if elected the next legislator,” Prof Bartoo said.
She also wants to address inequalities in distributing public resources, creating employment opportunities and initiating new development projects.
Mr Tiren, the chairman of the Parliamentary Committee on Agriculture, is eyeing a third term after he was elected in 2013 on United Republican Party ticket and in 2017 on a Jubilee ticket.
He is credited with championing farmers’ interests, including increased budgetary allocation to the agriculture sector.
“As chair of the Agriculture committee, my agenda is to push for an increase in funds allocated for the agriculture sector so that certain reforms carried out are beneficial to all farmers,” said Mr Tiren, who has made agriculture his key campaign issue, attracting support from farmers.
However, the high cost of fertiliser that hit Sh6,400 a bag this planting season and government’s pull-out from setting maize prices are among the challenges in his re-election strategy.
“Although Tiren contributed to some of the reforms in the agriculture sector, there is still a lot to be done to transform the sector that forms the economic mainstay of our people into a profitable venture,” Mr Jackson Kosgei from Sergoit ward said.
The MP is, however, riding on attractive maize prices this season, which hit above Sh5,000 per 90-kilogramme bag after the government regulated the importation of cheap grains to protect the local market and cushion farmers against losses.
Proper use of the National Government-Constituency Development Fund during his tenure is also crucial in to his re-election.
However, Mr Tiren’s close association with the independent party Kanu and his ‘rebel’ tag within the Kalenjin community may cost him the seat. He has been associated with Kanu and its party leader Gideon Moi, who is in a supremacy battle with DP Ruto over control of Rift Valley politics.
Mr Tiren together with legislators Alfred Keter (Nandi Hills) and Joshua Kutuny (Cherangany have been vocal in advocating for the Kalenjin community to be allowed to make independent decision on who to support in the presidential race.
Former MP Lagat is seeking to reclaim the seat he lost to Mr Tiren in the 2013 elections.
He also lost to Prof Bartoo in the stiff competition for the UDA ticket that was marred by chaos, prompting the party to order repeat polls.
Mr Lagat, however, faces the challenge of shaking off corruption allegations during his tenure following misappropriation of CDF funds that saw some officials charged.
The UDA brigade has also launched a campaign for six-piece voting to lock out independent candidates.
The Kenya Kwanza Alliance team has branded independent candidates as Azimio la Umoja One Kenya Coalition sympathisers.
DP Ruto has hosted several rallies in the region where he urged residents to vote out independent candidates. He said voting for independent candidates will embarrass him, considering that other regions are supporting UDA candidates.
“There’s no way we’re going to elect independent candidates here at home. It cannot happen and don’t allow that to take place,” the DP said when he toured the constituency.
His sentiments are echoed by the team led by Elgeyo-Marakwet Senator Kipchumba Murkomen, who wants voters in the region to rally behind UDA candidates to boost the party’s strength.
“I’ve friends who lost in party nominations but I appeal to voters to support UDA candidates. We need the support of all the UDA candidates since when the time comes to elect House leaders, the coalition partners will look at the numbers of the leaders elected in each party,” Mr Murkomen appealed to voters.
The party is, however, facing revolt from some residents who want to be allowed to exercise their democratic right to choose leaders who can effectively articulate their issues in the August House.
TOMORROW: Makueni Senate, where Governor Kivutha Kibwana is in the race to succeed Mutula Kilonzo Jr