Nyanza offers a major election riddle for Raila Odinga
Prime Minister Raila Odinga must mount major campaigns in Nyanza after ODM’s controversial primaries.
The party incited discontent with the botched primaries, leading to disgruntled aspirants and some supporters threatening to reject party nominees at the ballot, even as they vote overwhelmingly for Raila as president.
Raila’s urgent challenge now is how to mollify supporters following the widespread disenchantment among Nyanza voters, with ODM’s failure to hold free and fair nominations.
Deep concerns have emerged within the broad ODM membership and supporters stunned by the audacity of the undemocratic acts committed by the party secretariat and the National Elections Board.
Independent party strategists and analysts are cautioning that a vicious voter backlash against ODM candidates could result in Raila winning the presidency, but ODM could fail CORD in securing majority seats in Parliament and Senate.
A number of candidates have already decamped from ODM and shifted to other parties, notably the National Agenda Party of Kenya. William Oduol, who was engaged in an acrimonious battle for the Siaya County governor’s contest with Raila’s brother Oburu Oginga, has moved to the Agenda Party.
Oduol will now battle for the seat against Rasanga Amoth, who is on the ODM ticket. The new party is also fielding candidates for parliamentary seats in Siaya County.
Disgruntled aspirants in other parts of Nyanza have also found solace in new parties.
In Karachuonyo competition-ready former MP James Rege will have to pull the ODM muscle to win against Adipo Okuome, who defected and is running on another party ticket.
Karachuonyo’s west-east divide may come into play, but the dominant party ticket could prevail, through Engineer Rege, the immediate former MP, who was first elected in 2007.
Traditionally, Karachuonyo constituency in Homa Bay County is known to give its incumbent MPs two five-year terms in Parliament. Rege is gunning for a second term in the March 4 elections.
With just one month before the elections, the ODM primaries fiasco has forced Raila to reflect on measures to prevent a falling out in ODM’s Nyanza backyard.
There are two options for Raila to redeem the party image: One, expand the horizon of his advisory teams beyond the usual lieutenants and order a shake-up of party secretariat with professionals to run the strategy.
Secondly, his presidential campaign must create a rapid response political, communications team, and strengthen intelligence gathering countrywide headed by a trusted and tried expert.
The Prime Minister has to restore his confidence and reputation among disenchanted Nyanza voters and gauge the independent feelings on the ground as an urgent damage control measure.
So what went wrong? Lack of preparedness, manipulations by top party operatives, and logistical inadequacies short-circuited the nominations.
Although the nominations fiasco was not confined to ODM, voices of discontent in Siaya and other parts of Nyanza have painted a bad picture for the party.
The PM will have to deal with an increasingly restless and defiant grassroots support base to have them elect ODM candidates. The PM did just that after the falling out in Ndhiwa parliamentary by-elections last year. But now he must do it on a larger scale to calm flared tempers.
In the radar of agitated Nyanza voters are key Raila lieutenants ODM Secretary-General Anyang’ Nyong’o, Immigration minister Otieno Kajwang’, and former Gem MP and former Chief Whip Jakoyo Midiwo. Disgruntled voters have a score to settle with them.
Sources say the rival Jubilee Coalition, which has fielded candidates, has let the ODM fiasco in Nyanza play into their hands to try to force a run-off and deny CORD majority members in Parliament and the Senate.
Aspirants, the electorate and party supporters had initially warned ODM headquarters against interference in the nominations, as it would undermine the party.
They argued that the only way to ensure a free and fair process was the establishment of an independent electoral board mandated to compile a party voter register, vetting, and listing of candidates. Party headquarters and top officials were to give the electoral board maximum financial and operational logistical support to achieve this goal.
Any attempt to usurp the board’s powers to favour certain individuals had to be avoided. Apparently the party secretariat usurped these powers or the board simply allowed its crucial mandate to fall into the hands of party mandarins.
What finally broke the camel’s back was the questioning of the credibility of board members. The shocker came when the widely accepted recommendation that the board chairman would not be a politician, but a professional with impeccable credentials, was rejected.
ODM head office assumed virtually all responsibilities that should have been handled by a purely professional board, failed to provide the board with an adequate operational logistics budget early enough, thus causing delays in preparation.
A simmering tug of war between the party headquarters and some members of the elections board ensued, further adding to the anxiety.
These complications resulted in the replacement of the chairman Henry Muthee Kathurima on Christmas Eve with Roads minister Franklin Bett, who was not vying for an elective post, just a few days before the primaries. Without efficient and transparent procurement and printing of the ballot boxes, ballot papers and nomination certificates as well as timely information on applicants’ details from the secretariat to the board, it was inevitable a falling out would occur.
Fell by wayside
Key allies fell by the wayside in an open backlash from the party voters, seemingly protesting against their deep involvement in the nominations. This evoked widespread fears.
These fears were proved right by the machinations which continued to play out as top party official made a mad rush to the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission offices in a frantic and futile bid to alter the list of nominees and save several former MPs who lost to newcomers.
Party hierarchy must convince its key constituencies to hold together afterparty primaries debacle.
Failure to address this distressing political scenario could harm the CORD presidential candidate and the alliance’s rather bright chances for winning elections.