ODM leader Raila Odinga has told Nyanza it will not come out of next year's General Election "empty-handed" even as President Uhuru Kenyatta's latest visit to the region appears to boost his chances for a fifth attempt at the presidency.
On Monday, Raila called on his supporters to register as voters in large numbers hinting he could be in the race to State House.
"Those who do not have identity cards should apply for them and start registering now. That is what other regions are doing," said Raila.
He called on residents not to wait until the last minute to register as voters saying this has messed them in the past elections.
"This region will not come out of the 2022 polls empty-handed. Let us not wait, let us register as voters now. We must start preparing for the elections now," said Raila.
He also spoke of the legacy he said he is working with President Kenyatta to leave through the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI).
In an interview on a local vernacular radio station ahead of Tuesday's Madaraka Day celebrations in Kisumu, Raila also challenged his foot soldiers to begin preparing their political weapons ahead of the elections.
“We want our people to start preparing themselves for what awaits us next year. I am sure we will not come back empty-handed,” said the ODM chief.
Some of his lieutenants have been pressing Uhuru to back Raila for the top seat and rally his Mt Kenya bloc behind him. As part of the efforts to consolidate his support, Raila urged residents in his backyard to take advantage of continuous voter registration being carried out by the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) to enlist.
He told the radio talk show that he is optimistic the development projects and the peace process they have initiated with Uhuru will be long-lasting and outlive them. Raila, who has been fighting to calm a storm in his ODM party, has not openly declared his interest in succeeding President Kenyatta even though some observers said Uhuru's visit to the region will boost his chances in the 2022 presidential showdown.
If the Opposition chief decides to run for the presidency, then he is likely to face his political nemesis, Deputy President William Ruto who has accused him of wreaking the ruling Jubilee Party, thanks to his handshake with Uhuru that later gave birth to BBI.
Raila's supporters have been hoping he will declare interest in the presidency even as the clock ticks towards 2022. He will also be facing opposition from One Kenya Alliance leaders who include Kanu chairman who is also Baringo Senator Gideon Moi, ANC leader Musalia Mudavadi and Ford-K's Moses Wetang'ula, all of whom have shown interest in succeeding Uhuru.
Raila, however, faces a stern test to overcome several battles that could determine the direction of the presidential race next year. These include the stalled BBI process and infighting within his party. He must also ensure his handshake deal with Uhuru remains alive.
He may also be using the plethora of political and economic activities Nyanza has witnessed in the last few days to lay ground for his bid. During the current visit by Uhuru, Raila has also been seen to champion the interests of the Luhya community which poses a challenge to Western leaders, including Mudavadi and Wetang'ula who have been working hard to become the political kingpins of the vote-rich region.
The two leaders, alongside DP Ruto have been visiting the Nyanza regions with a view of eating into Raila's support base. Some politicians, including those allied to the Deputy President, view Uhuru's three-day visit as purely political. Those in Raila's camp are happy that the development projects Uhuru has launched will boost Raila's standing as the country heads into next year's elections.
In Siaya, Raila boarded one military helicopter as Uhuru another. Raila was also on hand to receive Burundi's President Évariste Ndayishimiye in Kisumu yesterday ahead of the Madaraka Day celebrations. Raila said the projects will outlive them and that he and Uhuru are only focused on ensuring stability in the country.
"President Uhuru and I desire that Kenya continues to be stable. We want these projects to continue even when we are not there. BBI is among the projects we are advocating for," he said.
Lack of clarity on whether Raila will run for presidency had started causing anxiety among his supporters. There has been a split over the BBI process with some of the ODM chief's foot soldiers, including Senate Minority leader James Orengo, party chairman John Mbadi, Rarieda MP Otiende Amollo and ODM’s director of elections and Suna MP Junet Mohammed pulling in different directions.
During the radio interview, Raila was optimistic they will overcome challenges the BBI process is facing.
He criticised unnamed leaders who he said are pushing for a change of the constitution to go through a parliamentary process, describing them as naysayers who were only out to confuse the public.
“Some people are telling us that we should go to parliament. How do they know we will not succeed within the corridors of justice?” said Raila.