Cut-throat lobbying for the vacant Migori Senate seat might suck opposition leader Raila Odinga into local politics once again as ODM faces a fresh dilemma in picking its nominee.
Reports that the party will directly pick its candidate for the October 8 by-election to replace the late Ben Oluoch Okello who died last month, have ignited political passions in the region.
Speculations that the top party brass may have settled on a candidate even before Mr Okello’s burial has escalated anxieties, even as aspirants seek answers on the parameters being used to pick the flag bearer. Two events that have happened around former Energy Minister Ochillo Ayacko have sent tongues wagging as to whether he could be the favourite for the Orange ticket.
During Senator Okello’s burial on July 9, Raila asked Ayacko to reconcile with his rival, Migori Governor Okoth Obado.
Ayacko had quit ODM in a huff and ran for the governor’s seat as an independent candidate after Obado was handed the party ticket and proceeded to win the election.
After Raila’s brokered handshake, Ayacko not only withdrew a case he had filed at the Court of Appeal challenging Obado’s election, but also reportedly turned down an ambassadorial appointment by President Uhuru Kenyatta.
Observers say the decision by ODM to handpick a nominee could prove costly. It will be remembered that in 2013, Migori voters defied the party and voted in Obado on a PDP ticket.
Should ODM hand Ayacko the ticket, he will feel the heat of having to do without the support of Obado and Dalmas Otieno, who are likely to rally behind a ‘compromise’ candidate against him. Mr Otieno is also eyeing the seat.
“ODM should have allowed the voters to decide. Granted, the election is about Migori people and not people sitting in a boardroom in Nairobi,” Anyanga told Sunday Standard.
“In a situation where a few people are picked and told to sit in a boardroom to identify a candidate based on certain interests, fairness will not prevail. I don’t wish to be party to that kind of arrangement.”
Anyanga said he would make a decision in due course, adding that voters were continuously piling pressure on him to contest.
ODM chairman John Mbadi said the party’s constitution allows it to use its discretion to pick candidates. He says ODM nominations rules and procedure prescribes direct party nominations, universal suffrage or the delegates system as ways that can be used in picking candidates.
Inherit the seat
“As things stand we are not even aware who the aspirants are. We only read about them in the media. But we have now invited applications,” said Mbadi. Okello’s family wants to inherit the seat and is calling for fairness. They have picked radio journalist and the late senator’s nephew Mark Okundi.
Okundi presented his papers to Orange House on Friday and is hopping to fit into the shoes of his uncle and mentor.
He said he has no problem with direct nomination so long as it is fair and transparent.
“The party has told us it has no money to conduct primaries. We are waiting to see how they will do the direct nomination,” said Mr Okundi.
Raila may have to step in to cool down things ahead of the by-election. The Kuria community does not want to be left behind either, and is also seeking the ODM ticket to contest the seat. “Do not wish the Abakuria away. Their votes will count too,” said Kuria East MP Marwa Ketayama.
In a region where tribe, clan and party affiliation determine election outcomes, the Kuria community presented a candidate in the last election – Solomon Hodo – who emerged third.
“All Kurians voted for him (Hodo). Migori and sections of Nyatike and Awendo also provided their support, he could pull a surprise. ODM should let the people choose their best candidate,” Ketayama said.
Besides Ayacko, Okundi and Otieno, others eyeing the seat are former Suna East MP John Pesa and businessman Eddy Oketch, who was Okello’s runner-up in last year’s elections.
Also in the race is former Kasarani MP Ochieng Mbeo.
Mbadi said the party has already called for an urgent National Executive Committee (NEC) meeting tomorrow to decide on the race. Even if ODM issues a direct ticket to any of the aspirants, its nominee would also have to face off with aspirants from other parties. Jubilee will however not field a candidate because of the good relationship it now has with ODM, according to the party’s Secretary General, Raphael Tuju.
Tuju made the assurance during Mr Okello’s burial after Raila asked him not to present a candidate.
Pesa asked ODM to allow all the aspirants to face the people at the ballot. “Let each one of us be allowed to campaign, market our ideals and policies for the people to make an informed decision,” said Pesa.