A storm is brewing in the Orange Democratic Movement party after top officials differed on how to pick a nominee for the Migori senatorial by-election.
The party’s decision to settle for a direct nomination ahead of the by-election, scheduled for October 8, appears to have rattled some members.
The differences emerged yesterday after the party’s National Electoral Board (NEB) chairperson, Judith Pareno, shot down recommendations from its Migori branch that formed an electoral college and picked former Cabinet minister Ochillo Ayacko as the nominee.
The Electoral College, chaired by branch chairman Phillip Makabongo, forwarded Mr Ayacko’s name and said he beat seven other candidates angling for the seat left vacant following the death of Senator Ben Okello.
But Ms Pareno disowned the Electoral College, saying it was illegal.
“The National Elections Board of the ODM wishes to disassociate itself from reports quoting one Philip Makabongo regarding the party’s flag bearer in the Migori Senate race,” Pareno said in a statement.
“NEB is the only organ mandated by the party constitution to conduct elections and carry out nomination exercises and not any other person or organ.”
Pareno said the process of picking a candidate for the race was still on and described the Migori Electoral College list as “rumours”.
But in what could fuel more heat in the party, the party’s Migori branch said it had the mandate to use an electoral college to pick a nominee.
“As a branch, we are allowed to do what we did. It was lawful because we do not need to seek permission from Nairobi to hold our branch meetings,” said Mr Makabongo.
“We wish to confirm to the party that we held an electoral college and we have the results. Everything was done in the open and according to the party constitution,” he said.
Branch Secretary Joseph Olala said the branch saw it fit to hold a popularity test and send its recommendations to the party’s National Executive Council.
“I think Ms Pareno handles election matters and not direct nominations. The party has structures right from the headquarters to the counties and which must be respected,” said Mr Olala.
He said Ayacko was picked during a meeting attended by delegates drawn from the eight constituencies in the county and 14 from the county executive branches.
So far the race has attracted Ayacko, former minister Dalmas Otieno and former MPs John Pesa, Edick Anyanga and Ochieng Mbeo (Eala).
Also eyeing the seat are former Migori county assembly speaker Gordon Ogolla, businessman Eddy Oketch, Mr Okello’s son Willis Okello and his nephew Mark Okundi, who is a journalist. They have since picked nomination forms.
As the ODM officials differed over the nominations, cracks also emerged in Okello’s family over who should contest the seat.
Willis, Okello’s oldest son, has said he has all the rights to inherit his father’s mantle. So has Okello’s nephew Okundi.
Some members of Okello’s Kanyimach clan have endorsed Okundi, who they said they had settled on after wide consultations.
“Our choice is not out of the blue. We have deliberated and settled on Okundi. We are requesting the ODM party leadership to listen to Okello’s family and accept our chosen man to take over the seat left by the late Okello,” said Samson Mumbo, a Kanyimach elder and Okello’s cousin.
But Willis has declined to back down for Okundi despite meetings with family members.
“I am Okello’s first-born son, and should there be anything like family endorsement, then let other people not take advantage of this situation to coerce my family to serve their personal greed,” he said.
And the battle is intensifying, with Okello’s two widows - Hellen Achieng and Ruth Auma - backing different sides. While Ms Achieng is backing Okundi, Ms Auma is rooting for her son Willis.