, NYERI, Kenya, Mar 5 – It was a gruelling 24 hours fraught with suspense, high drama and sometimes succumbing to sleep as Othaya waited for a new Member of Parliament, the first since 1974 when President Mwai Kibaki first won the seat but in the end, Mary Wambui Munene crossed the finish line in triumph.
The lady who had the whole area chanting to her slogan, ‘Othaya na Mama’ carried the day after a bruising battle with Gichuki Mugambi in a contest that gripped national imagination.
Wambui, who in recent years commanded national attention with her philanthropic gestures when she was widely referred to as a ‘Narc activist’ as well as a number of controversies, eventually carried the day with 16,285 votes ahead of her closest challenger Paul Kingara’s 14,218 as Mugambi – Kibaki’s choice – garnered 10,972 votes.
The remaining six contestants in the race to succeed the outgoing Head of State were reduced to the supporting cast but for the record, they respectively polled for the hotly duelled seat that attracted nine candidates.
“I thank Othaya people for giving me this victory after a long wait. I promise to work with my rivals to develop this constituency. The first thing I shall do is to come back here and thank the people,” Wambui who was at the tallying centre from 2am said, as her supporters broke into raptures in the hall.
“I’m pleased with the security in this area during the elections and I also wish to commend IEBC for the process but above all, I praise God for giving me the patience to go through with this,” she added moments after Returning Officer James Mbai announced she was the winner.
At the Othaya CDF Hall, one of Kibaki’s legacies for the constituency he has represented without much opposition since he shifted his political base from Nairobi’s Donholm eons ago, the wait for the eventual winner took its toll with agents, IEBC officials and security officers surrendering to the long hours of work with much needed shut eye.
Poll officials elected to read results from all 112 polling centres in a process that delayed the announcement that had kept the entire town on tenterhooks besides the national interest in the outcome.
At around midday, high drama came to the fore when the returning officer was compelled to stop the tallying process as agents for Kingara arrived at the centre claiming a ‘stranger’ had accessed the premises with suspicious ballot boxes.
Tension mounted and anti-riot policemen were deployed to the tallying centre as patrols were beefed up in the town in anticipation of any incidents as information filtered from the counting hall.
They were joined by Nyeri gubernatorial candidate Nderitu Gachagua, and it took Mbai and police officers almost two hours to quell the protests with Kingara leaving the hall in a huff when it became apparent Wambui was carrying the day.
The stranger turned out to be a presiding officer at one polling station whose identification had already been returned to the poll body.
As the protracted tallying came to a close, supporters of Wambui broke into gospel songs leading one local media station to declare she had won much to the chagrin of the Returning Officer.
However, the announcement finally came and the supporters and Wambui trooped into town in victory with chants of ‘Mama Yetu’ renting the quiet evening air.
But the significance of the next Othaya MP to the region and nationally was not lost on anyone present at the hall.
In a rare break from his magisterial silence on anointing and actively campaigning for his successor as any incumbent Head of State in Africa would be inclined to do, Kibaki openly endorsed Githinji, one of his most trusted aides and his eye in Othaya to succeed him.
In voting in Wambui, the Othaya residents managed to achieve a two-fold feat. The first, was to emphatically close the chapter to the Kibaki era as area MP and the second, was to align themselves with a lady whose acts of charity are dotted across the constituency’s landscape.
As soon as information from the tallying centre started filtering out, Wambui’s bedrock of support who were in various entertainment spots around the town monitoring the process in addition to keeping a keen eye on the presidential race started to break in rancorous cheer.
“Mama atasafisha Othaya (mum will clean up Othaya) they chanted on end and the words they spared for Kibaki’s endorsement are not qualified for publication.
For most however, there was no love lost for the man an estimated 60 percent of the population have known as their MP in their lifetime.
“Thanks to mzee, we have good roads, water and our town has developed,” a resident, Stanley Mathenge gushed between copious swigs of his favourite brew.
“But mama has done us a lot of good and we decided let’s give her a chance to improve our lives,” he hastily added.
In this part of Kenya, the alleged links between their MP-elect and the outgoing Head of State are whispered in hush tones but most residents who spoke to Capital FM News agreed that was not a factor that influenced their decision.
What the outcome portends for the legacy of the man who towered over Othaya like the proverbial colossus is an open guess but by voting emphatically for Wambui, one thing is certain, a break from the past has been negotiated for this constituency.