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Race hots up in Kirinyaga mini poll

KERUGOYA, Kenya, Feb 7 – Political campaigns for the Kirinyaga Central seat are expected to go into overdrive this week with the two front runners, Narc Kenya and the Party of National Unity (PNU) seeking to upstage each other.

Deputy Prime Minister Uhuru Kenyatta is expected to lead other PNU bigwigs to the constituency on Wednesday, where they are expected to launch a major offensive for the seat in the region, which is political backyard of Narc-K chairperson Martha Karua.

Ms Karua pitched camp in the area over the weekend to drum up support for Daniel Karaba who is vying on a Narc Kenya ticket.  Mr Karaba successfully challenged the election of Ngata Kariuki who has opted not to seek re-election.

On Sunday, Mr Karaba (who is a former area MP) campaigned in Kerugoya Town where he called on the constituents to back him, saying he is the most experienced in the field of eight who are vying in next week\’s by election.

"We have not developed an inch since 2008 when my victory was stolen.  I will use the one remaining year to catch up. A vote for me is a vote for development," Mr Karaba told a campaign rally.

The campaigns end on February 14.

"Why do you want to experiment with novices?  we have only one year to go… you need someone who understands parliamentary procedure and that is me. Before they understand the Standing orders, Parliament will have been dissolved," Mr Karaba said.

Signs of how explosive the campaigns are likely to get came to the fore on Sunday when supporters from both parties clashed as a Narc Kenya team led by Juja MP William Kabogo, campaigned at Kangaita.

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The supporters had clashed after the Karaba group claimed their PNU counterparts had been erecting blockades to prevent their candidates from campaigning in the area.

Kirinyaga police divisional chief Patrick Oduma said officers were quick to separate the youths and that no casualties were reported in the 2pm incident.

"We had anticipated such a clash and strategically placed contingents of police officers to ensure rival youths did not fight," Mr Oduma said on Sunday.

Mr Kabogo condemned the incident and called for peaceful campaigns aimed at getting the best leader for the area.

He further asked the Interim Independent Electoral Commission to probe widespread claims of voter bribery by one of the candidates.

"They also camped in Juja for a month and showered the people with lots of money but eventually people said they were standing with their own," he said." Will you stand by Karaba?" he asked the enthusiastic crowd.

Joseph Gitari, an engineer by profession is vying on a PNU ticket, said he wants to improve the education standards as well as introduce irrigation projects in some semi arid areas in district.

Speaking during a road show in Karaini and Kagio, Cabinet Minister Njeru Githae who has been spearheading campaign for the PNU candidate said they are running an issue-based campaign and asked their opponents to refrain from intimidation and making libellous statements.

Opinion leaders, who are familiar with the politics of the region, claim that the race is likely to be a close one. They attribute this to the perceived supremacy battles between Ms Karua and Mr Kenyatta.

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According to them, the by-election gives the area the perfect opportunity to show they support Mr Kenyatta despite his inclusion in the list of six people the International Criminal Court Prosecutor wants indicted for their alleged involvement in the 2008 post-election violence. They claimed Ms Karua\’s stand on the ICC process could hurt Mr Karaba\’s chances of winning.

However, a counter argument is that the region may want to \’confirm\’ that Mr Karaba won the seat and the petition process as not in vain. They however argue the outcome will be close.

This view is discredited by Mr Kabogo who found himself in a similar tussle before he triumphed in the Juja by-election.

"This by-election is not a Karua vs Uhuru affair like they would want you to think. This is about, Karaba and you, the people here," he said.

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