The Orange Democratic Movement, a party that since its founding has been ruled and governed by sheer will, emotion and of course the preferences of its supreme party leader Raila Odinga, last month broke away from tradition and chose science over all these other factors.
By doing this, ODM accidentally created a small piece of history as the first Kenyan political party to rely on an opinion poll to settle on a candidate for a vacant electoral seat.
The party’s top leadership was faced by a monumental task; replacing one of its most popular politicians, the late Migori Senator Ben Oluoch.
Even before the party made its choice, murmurs had already started, with individuals interested in the vacant seat claiming that the party already had a preferred candidate and was only bidding time before making its choice known.
The race had already attracted former Rongo MP Dalmas Otieno, former university student leader David Osiany, former Migori MP John Pesa, former Nyatike MP Edick Anyanga, former East Africa Legislative Assembly MP Ochieng Mbeo, businessman Eddy Oketch as well as nominees from the late Oluoch’s family.
Those that had shown interest were no political lightweights, and ODM faced the danger of fielding an unpopular candidate and suffer a mini-rebellion in one of its strongholds. In the run-up to the last General Election, several party nominees were rejected by voters. And in instances where ODM insisted that the handpicked candidates run, they lost and those who ended up being declared winners by the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission, faced endless legal battles. Some, like Homa Bay Governor Cyprian Awiti lost in court.
This was the dilemma ODM faced. The party already had a candidate, Ochillo Ayacko, in mind. The only hurdle was how to sell him as the favourite among peers to the people of Migori.
Previously, brute force and the politics of blind endorsement at stadium rallies had failed to convince the populace. Then, seemingly, someone at Orange House had a brain wave. The solution, it seems, lay in the time tested art of psephology- a division of political science that deals with the examination as well as the statistical analysis of elections and polls.
Between July 22 and July 24, the party commissioned a poll to look into who amongst the Migori senatorial candidates was the most popular. Telephone interviews were conducted for 1,200 respondents covering eight constituencies and 40 wards.
The poll intended to find out a few things about Migori. First, those polled indicated that of key concern to them was matters dealing with transport and infrastructure and, importantly, that 82 per cent of the voters were for electing their candidate at a democratic election process. Only 12 per cent of them would opt for a direct nomination.
Three days after the poll was conducted, ODM had their man.
“As per the party rules, the National Elections Board has settled on Ochillo Mbogo Ayacko to the ODM candidate for the Migori senatorial seat in the October 8, 2018, by-election. The NEB has briefed the NEC and the candidate has been approved to fly the party flag,” ODM chairman John Mbadi said at a press conference.
The poll, that was later on circulated to newsrooms, had a few glaring omissions.
The Opinons Poll Act, which ODM diligently fought for, sets forth a few conditions that the pollsters should abide by, to at least settle on a certain level of credibility.
“The first person who publishes the results of an electoral opinion poll during an electoral period and any other person who transmits those results to the public within 24 hours after they are first transmitted to the public must provide the name of the sponsor of the opinion poll as well as the name of the person or organisation that conducted the poll,” reads a section of the Act. Both these two were missing from the ODM Migori poll.
By settling on Ayacko (pictured), partly basing their decision on the results of the poll, the opposition party may just have set a precedent on how to force a candidate down the throats of the populace.
Ayacko may well be the most popular candidate on the ground, but for a party that has historically prided itself rightfully or wrongly as a bastion of democracy and free will, this may be the first step towards the slippery slope of boardroom nominations.