Persistent fights within ODM threaten a six-piece voting pattern advanced by party leader Raila Odinga in next year’s elections.
Elected leaders, party officials and aspirants in several ODM branches in Nyanza are embroiled in power struggles despite persistent calls by Raila to have the differences resolved to enable legitimate party officials embark on preparations for campaigns.
Raila wants his supporters to vote for ODM candidates in all the six elective positions of president, governor, senator, women rep, MP and MCA. But supremacy battles arising from party elections late last year, have continued to cause divisions in the party’s Nyanza strongholds especially in Kisumu Town East, Homa Bay, Migori and Kisii. In Kisumu Town East for instance, area MP Shakeel Shabir has written to the party secretariat, asking for help to resolve a worsening row between two factions – one led by Osumba Olum and another by Robert Otuge.
In Homa Bay, a group of leaders have accused branch chairman Gladys Wanga of sidelining them even after Raila personally helped resolve the branch leadership wrangles early this year. The party leader witnessed as leaders of the two factions – one led by Wanga and the other led by Homa Bay Town MP Peter Kaluma – shake hands in a show of unity.
Last week, Wanga stirred a fresh storm in the party branch when she dismissed a number of constituency chairmen as mere party supporters, saying they ceased being party officials. She singled out Ogina Nyabola (Ndhiwa), Evance Ndege (Kasipul), Lazarus Obila (Homa Bay town), Kennedy Marembo (Rangwe), Tedly Ogolla (Karachuonyo) and Narkiso Tuko (Mbita) as former officials who had since lost their office status.
She said the elders who are in the Kaluma faction were defeated in the party elections.
“I am ready to listen to their grievances as party supporters and not officials,” said Wanga, the Homa Bay Women Representative.
But the group said it was wrong for Mrs Wanga to sideline them yet records at the ODM headquarters showed they were the bona fide sub branch officials. “We’ve certificates to prove that we are the duly party chairmen from our respective constituencies. It is wrong for us to be excluded from running the party affairs because we also support its agenda. Such moves will grossly weaken the party,” Ndege said.
The group warned that the party may not achieve the six-piece suit voting pattern unless the emerging issues are resolved.
The six also accused the county party leadership of abandoning its mandate of uniting supporters to ensure the party remains strong at the grassroots. The situation is the same in Migori where the recent defection of Governor Okoth Obado from the PDP to ODM is causing ripples. Immediately after the defection, Obado declared himself ODM’s county patron, a position bitterly rejected by party officials. Some party officials want Mr Obado to write an official letter disowning his former party and requesting admission to ODM. But the governor and his supporters have rubbished the demands. Early this week, speaking at a funeral in Kuria which was also attended by Raila, Mr Obado stuck to his guns, saying he had returned to the party with a bang and had taken his position as patron in Migori County. He said governors in ODM counties become automatic party patrons in those regions.
But former minister Ochilo Ayacko, who is eying Obado’s seat in the 2017 elections, dismissed the governor’s self-enthronement. “You cannot defect to ODM then go ahead to allocate yourself a position that does not exist,” Mr Ayako said. Mrs Ann Anyanga, another Migori gubernatorial aspirant, said Obado is an outsider in ODM. “We are looking forward to the ODM primaries but an outsider cannot claim to be an official in ODM,” Mrs Anyanga said.
In Kisii, the recent trips to State House by a group of ODM leaders, including branch chairman Chris Obure has stirred a crisis after a group of party life members staged a coup against the Obure group. They accused Obure of working with Jubilee party. Strategists at Orange House are worried about the wrangling for positions in the branches. Their concern is that the fights could interfere with a clean sweep of seats including the presidency in 2017.
“These party officials have been told countless times to end these rows and work together. They are embarrassing Jakom (leader),” said a senior official at the secretariat who asked not to be named as he is not authorised to speak to the media.
In his recent tours across the country, Mr Odinga has promised democratic primaries, saying previous fallouts in the nominations have cost the party heavily with popular candidates decamping and winning elections on other party tickets.
ODM director of political affairs Opiyo Wandayi described the feuds as normal in a democratic party, arguing that they would not affect ODM game plan of winning the presidency in 2017. “We have internal mechanisms in place to resolve such issues as they emerge,” he said. He added the scramble for positions will have no bearing on the nomination of candidates as party officials will have no role in the process.
University of Nairobi lecturer and political analyst Adams Oloo said use of an independent board to conduct primaries would tame defections.