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Raila Odinga's Nyanza allies face uphill task as rivals up their campaigns

Azimio la Umoja One-Kenya presidential candidate Raila Odinga. [Caleb Kingwara, Standard]

A political storm is gathering in Nyanza and Western as Azimio-One Kenya Coalition presidential hopeful Raila Odinga’s allies struggle to convince voters to back their candidature for seats in hotly contested races ahead of the August 9 General Election.

And while they are putting a brave face in the wake of a stiff contest from several candidates keen to upset them in the polls, several careers are hanging by a thread as political temperatures rise.

Night political meetings and intense door-to-door campaigns have dominated the region as politicians keen on defeating some of Raila’s henchmen intensify their bids to consolidate support. While a majority are contesting on fringe parties, some are contesting as independents and have promised their opponents a run for their political money.

A section of residents believe that a number of veteran politicians who have dominated the region’s political scene for decades could fall in the polls and could be among the major upsets. All eyes are on what show they will put on come August 9. 

Burning the midnight oil

The intense competition has seen even key names that were integral in Raila’s past presidential campaigns such as Kisumu governor Anyang’ Nyong’o and Senators James Orengo (Siaya) and Ochillo Ayacko (Migori) missing in his national forays as they fight off intense competition to keep their political flames burning back at home.

Other allies including Homa Bay Woman Representative Gladys Wanga, who is also facing a tough competition from former Nairobi governor Evans Kidero, is also burning the midnight oil as she seeks to prevail in the contest.

In Western, Paul Otuoma, who is eyeing Busia governorship, is facing a tough test to defeat several opponents including Nambale MP Sakwa Bunyasi of ANC and DAP-K’s Moses Mulomi. In Vihiga and Kakamega, Wilber Ottichilo and Fenarndes Barasa are also facing stiff challenges in their bid to win seats as a host of opponents including candidates sponsored by Deputy President William Ruto’s Kenya Kwanza Alliance dig in.

With their opponents also having legitimate chances of winning and riding on an anti-six piece campaign that has dominated campaigns in Nyanza and Western in recent weeks, it is not a walk in the park for several politicians.

In some places, candidates contesting as independents have teamed up with those contesting on fringe parties to boost their morale.

In almost all the seats in the region, Raila’s allies are facing a herculean task to clinch seats. The situation has been compounded by the failure by ODM to secure zoning in Nyanza. The move could have seen other candidates from other parties within Azimio- One Kenya Coalition shelve their dreams to back ODM candidates in Nyanza and parts of Western.

Strong competitors

Interviews with a number of the ODM leader’s allies established that they are facing huge challenges. Friendly parties within their coalition have fielded fairly strong competitors who are not taking chances and have intensified campaigns against them.

In Migori, Ayacko and a long term Raila ally is facing a stiff test in his attempt to succeed governor Okoth Obado. Several veteran politicians including former MPs John Pesa (Migori) and Jubilee’s Dalmas Otieno (Rongo) have sustained a strong campaign against him. 

Otieno, who made an attempt in 2014 to create a party called “Kalausi” to challenge Raila’s ODM then, is also hoping to make a name for himself as the next governor of Migori. He has openly criticised attempts by ODM to push for a six-piece voting pattern in the region.

Yesterday, Ayacko admitted that they are facing an immense challenge to win seats but promised his opponents to brace for a tough political battle which he claims will culminate into a huge embarrassing defeat for his opponents.

He said the race was tough both at the national and the county level both for Raila allies and other candidates. In Nyanza, however, he believes most of Raila’s allies will easily win seats.

According to Ayacko, only the tough will survive the race. “I believe as Ochillo Ayacko, I am tough and I will win,” Ayacko said.

He added the six-piece voting pattern they are advocating for is gaining root and will be a massive game changer for ODM candidates. In the past, the push gave Raila’s lieutenants a political head start which saw them clinch seats seamlessly.

Philip Mwabe, who is among eight candidates competing against Ayacko, said Raila’s allies were walking a tight rope because most of them are in ODM, which he said conducted shambolic nominations.

 “The ODM people were too smart on nominations. The nominations were not done fairly,” Dr Mwabe said.

He noted that it is not given that the Luo will only elect leaders based on parties.

Walter Owino, who is Awendo MP and is keen on defending his seat, said being an ally to Raila would not have much influence in the elections.

“It is about the personal relationship between the leader and his people, and how he has worked for them,” Mr Owino said.

In Homa Bay, Wanga, a staunch Raila ally, is facing tough test to win the governorship. Although she has received a huge boost after Raila endorsed her about two weeks ago, she facing a huge task to ward off Kidero.

The financially endowed Kidero has sustained rallies in the region and is keen to reap from a backlash from some ODM supporters who were unhappy with the decision to hand Wanga a direct ticket.

There is a serious rivalry between the two leaders who have resorted to using various tactics to outshine each other.

Wanga said she has served both in the private and public sectors with her latest position being chairperson of the National Assembly Finance Committee.

“I am humbly appealing for support of Homa Bay people to vote me as their next governor. My manifesto has good projects which will transform this county for development,” she said.

On the other hand, Kidero said he has experience in management having served both in private and public sectors. His last position was as the governor of Nairobi county.

Changing dynamics

“I decided to contest this seat because my home county is ailing. Various sectors including health are on their knees. I want Homa Bay residents to vote me so that we can transform this county,” Kidero said.

Observers, however, believe that the chances of Raila’s allies winning seats still hang in the balance and opine that some of them will lose seats as a result of changing political dynamics in the region.

Viscount Owuor, a political analyst, argues that getting seats in the region has become extremely competitive and almost all the leaders are not guaranteed success at the polls.

“Getting seats is increasingly becoming competitive and six-piece voting pattern is nolonger being embraced without any questions. Unlike the past, the party ticket today holds no position of privilege,” says Owuor.

Joshua Nyamori, a constitutional lawyer and a political commentator, argues that Nyanza still remains an ODM zone and, therefore, every party candidate has an advantage that comes with loyalty. However, unlike in previous elections, he argues, voters have shown more critical analysis and are questioning the nomination process that resulted in the selection of some ODM candidates.

“Unlike previously when elections would end with nomination, now we have intensive campaigns in every constituency, ward and county. The independent and candidates from other parties are making quite a good show,” he says.

In Siaya, Orengo is also facing intense competition from Rasanga in a race that has attracted former Rarieda MP Nicholas Gumbo.

Raila’s elder brother, Oburu Oginga, is also facing a tough race in his bid to take over from Orengo. Two candidates, who are challenging him for the senator position, have accused him of “overstaying” his welcome in politics and argue he should pass the baton to the next generation.

 Stories by Harold Odhiambo, Anne Atieno, Olivia Odhiambo and James Omoro