The embarrassing moments Jubilee candidate and former Harambee Stars player McDonald Mariga suffered when the electoral body denied him the nod to vie for the Kibra parliamentary seat is symptomatic of the divisions in the party, which is in a fight with itself.
While the two factions — Tangatanga, allied to Deputy President William Ruto, and Kieleweke, leaning to President Uhuru Kenyatta — have gone hammer and tongs at each other, the registration fiasco is a new low.
The Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) said Tuesday Mr Mariga’s name does not appear in the voter register and he cannot, therefore, contest in the November elections. Efforts by former Kakamega Senator Boni Khalwale and Lang’ata MP Nixon Korir to convince the IEBC team that Mr Mariga was registered after the 2017 polls were futile.
Seated next to Mr Mariga was Ms Anne Thumbi, the nominated ward rep who was recently in the news over her relationship with the late Kibra MP Ken Okoth. As the drama unfolded, she could only giggle gingerly as the cameras rolled.
Returning officer Jane Muli said: “We have invalidated Mariga’s nomination to vie in the Kibera by-election because his name is not on the voter’s register.”
A contingent of police officers in combat gear were all over the compound, ready for any eventuality.
Dr Khalwale, Mr Korir and other Ruto allies who had accompanied the retired footballer to the IEBC offices said the failure to approve Mr Mariga to vie was tantamount to denying him his constitutional right to vote and contest. They vowed to appeal the decision.
“I want to register our disappointment that IEBC has not cleared Mariga despite meeting every qualification,” Mr Korir said. “McDonald Mariga is registered with IEBC but the commission now claims that his details are not on the register.”
He said Article 83 (3) of the Constitution stipulates that a Kenyan cannot be denied the right to vote or be voted for because of IEBC’s administrative incompetencies.
“It was their business to ensure that Mariga’s name is on the register because he is a registered voter.”
Dr Khalwale said: “I would like to assure Mariga’s supporters that this is just a temporary setback. Our campaigns go on unabated. Mariga’s name will be on the ballot.”
Mr Mariga remained calm as IEBC scrutinised his documents before the Jubilee team left the Dagorreti office a dejected lot shortly after 6pm.
“I am saddened by this development, but we shall wait for the verdict of the tribunal,” he said.
He sought to calm his supporters waiting pensively for the verdict outside the gates.
Earlier, Mr Mariga had been awarded the Jubilee certificate to vie for the seat, whose campaigns are seen as a crucial test for the March 2018 “handshake” between President Kenyatta and ODM leader Raila Odinga, the ruling party unity and a signal of what could happen in the 2022 General Election battle.
Secretary-General Raphael Tuju presented the certificate to Mr Mariga at Jubilee headquarters in Pangani.
On whether Mr Mariga was a registered voter, Mr Tuju implied that as the party had cleared the former football star, it meant he met the IEBC cut.
As he bade Mr Mariga farewell, he called for a peaceful election.
“We wish to see a peaceful election. It is just a competition and there will be a winner and loser, but we are all Kenyans at the end of the day,” Mr Tuju said.
Speaking shortly after receiving the certificate, the soft-spoken Mr Mariga said the bulk of the work was now to meet the voters in Kibra constituency. “Kazi tu sasa ni kuonana na our fans in Kibra.”
Mr Mariga’s trouble did not start Tuesday. His clearance to fly the Jubilee flag in Kibra came amid rising tension in the party as a number of MPs openly opposed his selection, dismissing him as Dr Ruto’s “project”.
Kieleweke members — nominated MP Maina Kamanda and his Cherangany counterpart Joshua Kutuny — said fielding a candidate to face off with ODM in the mini polls is a deliberate attempt to undermine the relationship between the President and Mr Odinga.
The sentiments were supported by Gatundu South MP Moses Kuria, who advised Mr Mariga to focus on developing football and leave the dirty politics to politicians.
Other Jubilee MPs have also questioned how Mr Mariga was picked by the party’s National Election Board from among several potential candidates.
And in stark contrast, the Orange Democratic Movement unveiled its candidate for the by-election after a successful poll, saying their process was a reflection of growing democracy in the party.
While opposition chief Raila Odinga paraded ODM’s nominee Imran Okoth, who was flanked by losers in party primaries at Orange House in Nairobi, his newfound ally following the handshake, President Uhuru Kenyatta, kept off the unveiling of Mr Mariga.
Kibra is seen as ODM’s and Mr Odinga’s bedrock in the city.
While the contest was envisaged as a dress rehearsal for the 2022 elections, the uncertainty over Mr Mariga’s candidacy makes it a contest skewed in ODM’s favour.
Pundits felt Mr Mariga’s performance would be an indicator of DP Ruto’s political genius and deep pockets, having swung the previous by-election in favour of the Wiper Party.
Investigations by the Nation showed that although Jubilee leaders allied to President Kenyatta were not keen to field a candidate in Kibra, they were outwitted by Mr Ruto’s team, who were behind the scenes using the party’s electoral board to ensure Mr Mariga was in the race.
At Orange House, Mr Odinga yesterday oversaw the issuing of the ODM ticket to Mr Okoth, brother of the late legislator Ken Okoth.
Addressing the gathering, nomination losers Otieno Milan, Peter Orero, Benson Musungu and Betty Moraa said they were satisfied with the nomination process.
“There are others who are not here but they sent their messages in support of Imran,” Mr Odinga said.