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Raila succession: Secrets, intrigues

 Azimio Leaders Raila Odinga and Kalonzo Musyoka in April 2023. [Sila Otieno, Standard]

He has spent most of his adult life a politician, and his praise of his ally Kalonzo Musyoka last weekend fueled speculation that Raila Odinga was ready to hang his political boots.

The former prime minister has made five unsuccessful stabs at the presidency and there have been calls that the opposition, perhaps, needs to try a different person as its flag-bearer.

His bases have been lately under siege. In Nyanza where he has for over 30 years commanded a fanatical following, some rebel MPs have risen against him. Western and Coast regions appear to be slowly slipping away, with his former allies now gravitating towards President William Ruto's administration. Turkana, which has been his bedrock in past elections, appears restless.

And although Raila does not rule out a go at the presidency a sixth time in 2027, he has seemed to be open to passing on the baton. President William Ruto has taken the hint and has already started readying for a duel with Kalonzo, whom he considers a walk-over.

"He wants to divide us with talk about who will run for the presidency, yet we have not announced anything... we will stand with Kalonzo because he is trustworthy," Raila had said on Sunday in Bondo, Siaya, in response to Ruto's 'belittlement' of Kalonzo.

The Standard on Sunday has reliably learnt from multiple interviews that Raila's Azimio la Umoja has tentatively settled on Kalonzo as its 2027 candidate, with the only headache being finding a running mate, most preferably from the western Kenya region. Experienced and young politicians from the vote-rich region, an opposition stronghold, are said to be considered to deputise Kalonzo.

Sources have revealed that Azimio's strategy involves Raila engaging in active politics as he still commands significant influence across the country, with which he can help marshall behind the opposition's candidate. The idea is that he could boost the chances of the said candidate as he did when he endorsed the late former President Mwai Kibaki with his "Kibaki Tosha" declaration.

In a statement Monday, Dennis Onyango, a spokesperson for Raila, made clear the former premier's intentions to stay put. "Mr Odinga further assures Azimio's supporters and the country that he plans to remain very active in party and national politics all the way to 2027," said Onyango, remarks aimed at clarifying that Raila had not endorsed Kalonzo.

"I empathise with Kalonzo because the celebration was shortlived because Raila has perfected the art of political conmanship and auctioning... Tinga knows very well that he cannot transfer his support to any other candidate, more so a weakling like SKM," Nandi Senator Samson Cherargei posted on X, formerly Twitter, in response to Onyango's clarification.

Indeed, Raila has maintained a prominent role in the opposition's ranks and has kept active in politics. Over the last few months, he has held rallies countrywide, called for protests and has also been vocal against Ruto's administration. In many ways, the Azimio leader has overshadowed his coalition's co-principals.

But a staunch ally of Raila, who spoke off the record, said that he did not think that Raila would seek the presidency in the next election. Another, who sought anonymity, said the same thing.

"Kalonzo is our candidate," said a third, a highly-placed source within the opposition, who also did not wish to be named.

The Wiper leader's grooming has been a poorly kept secret. Azimio's activities have seemingly revolved around him in recent months. His Stephen Kalonzo Musyoka Command Centre in Karen, Nairobi, has hosted the opposition's top brass' meetings, with the former vice president reading several of the opposition's statements, activities that a source said "were not by accident".

Besides Raila, who has termed Kalonzo "trustworthy", other Azimio leaders have also praised the Wiper leader, indicative of the role he will play in 2027. "I shed tears when, at the Jacaranda Grounds, you abandoned your presidential quest to support Raila. I didn't imagine that was possible given our previous wrangles in the National Super Alliance (NASA) coalition... we are indebted to you and we will not forget about it. Even Baba is aware that we are in your debt," Nairobi Senator Edwin Sifuna said during Kitui Senator Enoch Wambua's Thanksgiving event on Saturday.

"The future looks good and that is why I am always by Wambua's side... in the near future, you may need someone to take you to State House," added the ODM secretary-general.

Later in an interview on Spice FM, National Assembly Minority Leader Opiyo Wandayi said Kalozno had the potential to challenge Ruto for the presidency, even as he noted it was too early to think about the next polls.

"Kalonzo is eminently qualified to fly the Azimio flag not only in 2027 but any other time," said the Ugunja MP. 

Saboti MP Caleb Amisi said that either Raila or Kalonzo would be on the ballot, hinting at the coalition's plans to front the former vice president.

"A mega coalition coming in 2027 shall be called the Octagon. It will sweep Nyanza, Eastern, Central and Nairobi, and sweep Ruto to the valleys. (Deputy President) Rigathi (Gachagua) will be on the ballot with only 500,000 votes. Your next president is either Raila or Kalonzo," he posted on X, formerly Twitter.

Besides Kalonzo, Raila also seems to be grooming the next generation of politicians to whom he will hand over when he eventually retires.

Among them is Wandayi, who seems to be Raila's most preferred successor in the Nyanza region. Embakasi East MP Babu Owino has been touted as Wandayi's strongest challenger to succeed Raila in Nyanza.

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