The uncertainty surrounding William Ruto’s 2022 presidential ambition is complicating the political matrix in Kericho County, with voters now closely watching the body language of Energy cabinet secretary Charles Keter looking for signals on whether he will throw his hat in the gubernatorial race.
Also being watched closely is his popular and mobilizer wife, Winnie, for signals on whether she will try to wrestle the woman representative seat from Florence Koskey who secured the seat after defeating then woman representative Hellen Chepkwony in the Jubilee party primaries. At one time Winnie wanted to run for a political seat but was forced to step down with her supporters thewn openly shedding tears in public.
Indeed, the 2022 Kericho gubernatorial election is shaping up to be one of the most hotly contested races in the county since the incumbent, Paul Chepkwony is remaining with only two years in office and will not be defending his seat in 2022 as per the constitutional restrictions.
Chepkwony is serving his second and final term as governor.
Keter, who served as area senator before his appointment to the cabinet in 2015, is under pressure to go for the seat. Talk on the ground being, the seat is his for the taking.
Those eyeing the governorship fearing Keter have been telling voters, if Ruto wins the presidency, Keter is likely to either land a powerful cabinet slot or be appointed State House comptroller to run Ruto’s diary.
But the political onslaught the deputy president is facing from his boss, Uhuru Kenyatta, where his allies are being purged in party and parliamentary leadership, has left many wondering whether the former Eldoret North MP will secure the ruling party’s ticket for the top job. Surprisingly, the CS is also close to Uhuru just like DP Ruto.
Besides Keter, another contender for the lucrative seat is Kericho senator, Aaron Cheruiyot, also a close ally of the deputy president.
Cheruiyot is on a mission to succeed Chepkwony if his recent moves and political manoeuvres are anything to go by.
Before the outbreak of the deadly coronavirus pandemic, Cheruiyot was touring different parts of the county in the name of inspecting national government’s projects, a move which political pundits termed as early preparations for the 2022 gubernatorial race. His camp even claims, Keter was funding him to succeed Cheruiyot.
And judging by the strategies being put in place by different politicians, the county is set to experience one of the hottest political contests in 2022, and the race will be no walk in the park.
Chepkwony on his part recently appointed South Rift veteran politician Magerer Langat to the Kericho Municipal Board and the two have been appearing in public together.
This sparked rumuors that Chepkwony was planning to endorse the former Kipkelion legislator as his preferred successor.
Former National Security Social Fund boss Richard Langat, and former Kenya Ports Authority board member Fred Kirui, who both lost to Chepkwony during the Jubilee party primaries in 2017, are expected to try their luck in 2022. However, talk is rife that if the CS runs, the two will back him.
However, their entry into the race is likely to divide the votes, a move which will definitely spoil the race for other candidates.
In the 2017 Jubilee party primaries, Chepkwony cruised to victory after beating then Ainamoi MP Benjamin Langat, who came a distant fourth.
He garnered 124,698 votes while his rival, former National Social Security Fund managing trustee Richard Kirui had 33,351 votes.
Former Kenya Ports Authority board member Fred Kirui got 22,409 votes while Langat had 18,912.
Come governorship race for Kericho county, Cheruiyot, defeated Bett and former Tea Research Institute board chairman Sammy Chepkwony.
Cheruiyot garnered 99,404 votes during the election while Bett was second with 71,491 votes with Chepkwony having 32,328 votes.
CS Keter’s wife, Winnie, had announced she was readying to join the race for the woman representative’s seat.
Keter who heads the Social Economic Empowerment Women Organisation was seeking to unseat Hellen Chepkwony.
“Seewo members have been informally campaigning for me and urging me to go for the seat and after considering their requests, I hereby announce that I have since registered as a member of the Jubilee Party and I will be in the race. What I now ask is for support and prayers,” she said.
Mrs Keter made the announcement during a consultative Seewo’s meeting held in Kipkelion East constituency.
She said her candidature was motivated by the fact that South Rift women continue to lag behind in social, economic and political sphere, adding that she was well equipped to curve the graph upwards.
“My task will be to use the political platform and business connections to net resources for South Rift women. That is my dream and goal. I’m certain that if we hold each other’s hands, we will attain social, economic and political greatness,” she said.
But days later a wave of confusion hit the county political scene after Keter publicly asked his wife to withdraw her candidature for the Kericho woman representative seat.
The pronouncement by Keter came as a relief to those who felt that Winnie’s decision to contest the seat was an effort by the influential minister to maintain his grip on South Rift politics.
But it was also a slap on the face of thousands of women and supporters in Kericho county who felt that Mrs Keter would offer new solutions to problems facing them, and were betting on her to win the election.
On her part, Mrs Keter asked the residents to understand her husband’s decision not to support her because it had invoked unnecessary political tension in the county, adding that the family had reached an agreement to have her shelve her aspiration.
But other women led by then public service, youth and gender Affairs cabinet secretary Sicily Kariuki, now sanitation CS, criticised the withdrawal, arguing women who want to seek political positions should be supported, not discouraged or pulled down.
But Keter in urging his wife to pull out of the race was avoiding a scenario the County found itself in 2015 following a vicious political campaign after his appointment as Energy Cabinet Secretary.