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Raila Odinga's headache as Mombasa governor primary postponed

Mvita MP Abdulswamad Shariff Nassir (left) and banker Suleiman Shahbal (right), who are both members of the ODM party, are eyeing Raila Odinga’s nod. [Kelvin Karani, Standard]

The race to succeed Mombasa Governor Ali Hassan Joho has put ODM leader Raila Odinga in a dilemma where he must choose between a loyalist and a deep-pocketed banker.

The hotly contested race is between Mvita MP Abdulswamad Shariff Nassir and banker Suleiman Shahbal, who are both members of the ODM party and eyeing Raila’s nod.

Both have got a close working relationship with the party and wield considerable clout in Mombasa politics. In the 2017 elections, Mr Shahbal, who was then vying on a Jubilee ticket, garnered an impressive 69,429 votes against 221,363 votes raked in by ODM’s Joho.

Shahbal would later ditch Jubilee for ODM, which is dominant in the coastal city, before announcing his bid for the county’s top seat.

Mr Abdulswamad is an ODM stalwart who has enjoyed two five-year terms in office. During his tenure, he has emerged as an astute politician whose leadership qualities were most projected during his second term while at the helm of the National Assembly’s Public Investments Committee (PIC).

The headache for Raila now is choosing between the business tycoon and the MP in a move that if not properly executed, could lead to a fallout within the ODM party.

But despite making numerous forays into the Coast recently, the party leader has been unable to unlock the impasse. So much so that ODM has postponed party primaries in Mombasa and Kilifi counties.

ODM National Elections Board chairperson Catherine Muma yesterday issued a statement announcing the postponement of the exercise initially slated for Tuesday, April 5 and Wednesday, April 6, respectively.

This, she said, was to allow for consultations and consensus-building. “The party primaries for Kilifi County and Mombasa County are hereby postponed to enable conclusion of ongoing consultations and consensus building,” said Ms Muma.

ODM National Elections Board chairperson Catherine Muma. [Mumo Munuve, Standard]

“The National Elections Board will communicate the outcome of the consultations and consensus-building and advice on the next steps. We urge our members to exercise patience,” she added.

The Sunday Standard has also learnt of a spirited behind-the-scenes attempt by ODM to issue a direct ticket to either of the contestants, guided by the outcome of opinion polls.

The move has, however, not been embraced by either camp. A source said the decision to postpone Mombasa primaries came after a series of tripartite meetings between ODM’s top brass, Abdulswamad and Shahbal.

The latest one was on Thursday in Nairobi, where the party, while meeting all Mombasa County aspirants in Kileleshwa, is said to have revealed results of two separate polls it had commissioned. The polls, reportedly, placed Nassir ahead of Shahbal.

The meeting was chaired by ODM chairman John Mbadi and attended by Junet Mohammed (director of elections), Ms Muma, ODM executive director Oduor Ong’wen and Mombasa ODM branch chairman Mohammed Khamis.

A source said the party resolved to retain Mohamed Faki as its Senate candidate while the Woman Rep position polls placed Asha Mohammed and Zamzam Mohammed at almost a tie.

In Likoni, Mishi Mboko will be nominated to defend her seat while Joho’s kin Mohamed Saidi (Saido) will get the ODM ticket to fight Nyali’s Mohamed Ali of UDA.

Mohamed Faki in Changamwe, 2017. [Gideon Maundu, Standard]

Rashid Bedzimba (Kisauni), Mohamed Machele (Mvita), Omar Mwinyi (Changamwe) and Twalib Badi (Chomvu) are being considered for nomination using the same method.

During the meeting at Emory Hotel in Kileleshwa, the aspirants were told ODM is keen on forestalling a fallout from contested party primaries and thus favoured consensus.

However, the Shahbal team said opinion polls cannot be trusted. Yesterday, Nassir confirmed that ODM had agreed on a third opinion poll which would be final.

On claims by his competitor that the polls were not credible, he said they had been conducted by a firm not known to the contestants and thus were fair.

“The party in our last meeting informed us that it will do another set of polls and we have respected them for that opinion and we are waiting. The party has done two polls and in both, we are leading,” said the legislator.  

“By the party postponing the primaries, it is so that it can finalise on the polls. It is however high time that my competitor accepts the reality,” he added.

In a rebuttal, Shahbal reiterated that his camp would settle for nothing less than fair nominations. He was concerned that the polls “may have been interfered with” and “do not give the true impression of the situation on the ground”.

He added: “The party has not picked a flag bearer. The only option is nominations. We will not allow our leaders to be chosen for us by fake polls. The people must decide not brokers in the party. Since they believe so much in their polls, I suppose they should not fear going to nominations.”

He also denied the possibility of vying as an independent. “We believe we are going to get the ticket. We are not considering any other plan such as vying as an independent. We are firmly in the party and believe it will do the right thing.”   

His team also confirmed the Thursday meeting which ended in a stalemate but told of another meeting slated for tomorrow (Monday).

Junet assured that the party would issue a way forward. “We are yet to settle for a candidate between the two strong aspirants. We are still in consultations with the aim of identifying the strongest candidate,” he said.