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Sunday, August 8, 2010

Why shock referendum poll upsets worry MPs

By Standard Reporter

With the referendum contest settled, Cabinet ministers and Members of Parliament who did not deliver their constituencies to their camps are mulling over the humbling defeat that could embolden their opponents.

The heaviest casualties straddled both sides of the divide, including key figures in the ‘No’ and ‘Yes’ camps that stomped the country championing their sides’ interests but lost out in their own backyards on polling day.

Cabinet ministers who could not turn the tide in their favour included Mr Mutula Kilonzo (Justice and Constitutional Affairs), Dr Naomi Shaban (Special Programmes), Mr Henry Kosgey (Industrialisation), Dr Sally Kosgei (Agriculture), Mr Franklin Bett (Roads) and Prof Hellen Sambili (Sports).

Other notable leaders who lost out included MPs Mr Kiema Kilonzo (Mutito), Mr Cyrus Jirongo (Lugari), Mr Chris Okemo (Nambale), Dr Joyce Laboso (Sotik), Mr Magerer Langat (Kipkelion) and Prof Margaret Kamar (Eldoret East).

Although it was a constitutional vote, politicians have cause to worry when the electorate defies their passionate positions, especially coming close to the next elections since it could become cannon fodder for rivals.

But some of the MPs have shrugged off the outcome, saying it had no impact on their political standing and arguing that a General Election is a different ball game.

Mutula, the Justice minister and a passionate supporter of the endorsed constitution, lost out to the ‘Reds’ in Mbooni by 3,000 votes, as did late ‘No’ convert Okemo to the ‘Yes’ brigade in Nambale.

The wave of the ‘No’ team, anchored by Higher Education Minister William Ruto, was overwhelming in the Rift Valley and consumed Agriculture minister Kosgei (Aldai) and colleagues Kosgey (Tinderet), Bett (Bureti) and Sambili (Mogotio), who were the ‘Yes’ torch bearers in the region.

A similar fate befell Assistant Ministers Laboso, Langat and Kamar.

Mutula attributes the Mbooni backlash to alleged "confusion" and "lies" by the ‘No’ camp — that included politicians and the Church — but is reluctant to admit that his own campaigns as Justice and implementing minister could not make a difference in his constituency.

Mutito MP Kilonzo said even though he does not wish to make excuses for failing to deliver a ‘No’ vote in his constituency, a combination of factors were clearly to blame.

"I was combing the region and indeed the whole country therefore I did not concentrate on my constituency. Vice-President Kalonzo Musyoka and Water Minister Charity Ngilu backed by the State machinery descended on me big time. You cannot win all wars," Kiema told The Standard on Sunday by telephone.

Voting Bloc

He added: "Then my opponents ganged up and were telling the people I was out to frustrate their son, Kitonga, from hogging credit for the new laws." Nzamba Kitonga is the chairman of the Committee of Experts that prepared the draft. He hails from Mutito.

In Taveta, ‘Yes’ camp garnered 11, 155 votes against 3, 046 votes for the ‘No’ side that Special Programmes minister Shaban had campaigned for. But the minister shrugged off claims by her rivals that she committed political suicide by opposing the document.

"I will win the parliamentary election if elections are called now. My development record speaks for itself. I will shame my rivals come the next election," Dr Shaban told our sister publication The Standard after the shock loss in her constituency.

Another ‘No’ leading light, Jirongo, was not amused that ‘Yes’ won the vote in Lugari. "I was clear from the outset that people in Lugari were in ‘Yes’ because they were not voting for personalities. But it was my business to tell them about concerns in the draft," Jirongo said.

The Kaddu MP waved away suggestions that the outcome had emboldened his opponents.

Okemo and Jirongo’s loss in their constituencies has been seen as a gain for Deputy Prime Minister Musalia Mudavadi who led the ‘Yes’ campaigns in Western Province backed by all other Luhya MPs, except the two.

Before the referendum, Kipkelion MP Langat had rubbished reports that Rift Valley MPs spearheading the ‘Yes’ campaign faced political oblivion.

The Energy Assistant Minister dismissed as pedestrian suggestions that MPs who had defied the ‘No’ wave led by Higher Education Minister William Ruto risked losing their seats in the 2012 General Election.

"The community does not elect leaders based on how tight he or she can hang on the coat-tails of political god-fathers. They evaluate the development record and, in any case, the constitutional vote is not about political competition," Magerer said.

After ‘No’ wiped the board in the Rift Valley, Sotik MP Joyce Laboso said the outcome of the referendum had nothing to do with the 2012 General Election.

"Our development record will stand when it comes to the 2012 polls. Voters are wise and they know what to do when the time comes," Dr Laboso said.

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