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Raila party’s headache after embarrassing loss in by-elections

By Sunday Standard team | April 7th 2019
ODM candidate Chris Karan (left) and Siaya Senator James Orengo on the campaign trail in Sega town on March 9. [Collins oduor, Standard]

After the defeat of ODM in by-elections at the weekend, questions have emerged over what could have gone wrong.

Observers say this might be an indication of hard times ahead for the party that was seemingly been indomitable in opposition politics.

Many wonder how little known Movement for Democracy and Growth (MDG), which David Ochieng’ formed in 2013 upstaged ODM, which has massive following in Siaya County.

Was it strategy gone wrong or sibling rivalry among the leading campaigners - MP Opiyo Wandayi and Senator James Orengo? Could Raila’s handshake with President Uhuru Kenyatta be slowly weakening ODM? Did Raila set up ODM candidate for defeat by failing to campaign for him?

Bolting out

In the Friday by-elections, Christopher Karan of ODM was defeated by his predecessor Mr Ochieng who vied on MDG in the Ugenya parliamentary race after bolting out of the Orangeparty in 2017. 

In Nairobi, it was a painful loss for ODM’s Irshad Sumra who conceded defeat to Joseph Mawathe of Wiper Party.

Speaking days after an internal report indicted the ODM leadership, the Opposition leader Raila admitted the party has problems.

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“A party may die when it is crucially needed. Its role in developing leadership should always be remembered and now that we have the next elections season, we should rejuvenate ourselves and our party too,” he told ODM delegates from Migori County at Awendo Catholic Parish on Friday.

Issues cited in the report are alleged dictatorship in the Orange party, nominations fiasco, membership and partyloyalty, as well as finances.

Raila, who had in the run-up to the polls pleaded with voters in Ugenya not to embarrass him, and re-elect Karan, was left looking inwards after the public went the other way. The by-election, it should be remembered, was happening in Raila’s own home county.

Interestingly, Sumra and Karan, got ODM direct nominations for the by-elections.

The by-elections rekindle the 2013 elections when Raila’s ally Prof Oyugi Akong’o was handed the party ticket to run for Migori governor’s seat even after Okoth Obado won the primaries.

Obado defected to People’s Development Party and won the gubernatorial seat. The same trend was replicated across Nyanza where ODM lost about six seats to rival parties, despite enjoying massive support. In the recent Migori senate by-elections, ODM candidate Ochillo Ayacko struggled to win after Eddy Oketch of FPK sliced away significant votes. Interviews by Sunday Standard established issues that could have played against ODM include changing trends and shifting mindsets of the voters, initially thought to agree to Raila’s every direction.

In Uguenya, some leaders claimed ODM’s campaign was marred by the 2022 succession politics of Siaya governorship while other blamed the defeat on the failure by Raila to be on the forefront during campaigns.

“Raila’s failure to show up in the heat of the campaigns could have dampened their hopes or spirit and this gave MDG a leeway that Raila was not with his candidate,” said Gem MP Elisha Odhiambo.

ODM campaigns were led by Siaya Governor Cornel Rasanga and Orengo.

And yesterday, legislators from the region blamed Karan for his loss. “Karan was not in charge of his campaigns and with other people being in charge, it appeared uncoordinated. The 2022 succession politics made some leaders give the ODM campaigns a wide berth and these also divided leaders, making them stay away,” said Bondo MP Gideon Ochanda.

Those familiar with the campaigns told Sunday Standard that simmering supremacy ward between Orengo and Wandayi who are eyeing the Siaya governor’s seat in 2022 weakened ODM.

Ochanda said: “Karan’s loss could have been protest votes against Orengo who has come out to start 2022 campaigns.”

But Wandayi said the immediate former MP lost because the people of Ugenya had made a decision to elect Ochieng, a sentiment shared by political pundits Mark Bichachi and Tom Mboya of Maseno University.

He, however, declined to comment on allegations of a rift between him and Orengo, only saying the election was not a popularity contest between MDG and Raila’s ODM. “The people of Ugenya have spoken and we have to respect that for now. As a party, we shall have an in-depth inquiry into what really transpired,” said Wandayi.

Then there was the issue of choice of candidate and campaign funding. Sources confided in Sunday Standard that the campaigns were mismanaged while funds raised for the same were not accounted for. Questions are also being raised on the whereabouts of Sh1.6 million allegedly donated by a senior leader for the campaigns.

“The money was donated to cater for food and transport for ODM agents but it cannot be accounted for. We don’t know whether it reached the agents,” said a politician involved in the campaigns. But Bichachi said Ochieng’ boasted an impressive track record and his campaign message resonated with residents. He belives the handshake robbed the ODM team of something to cling on to campaign against Ochieng. “In the past, the ODM team was united in a fight. People voted for ODM candidates because of fearing the consequences of having betrayed Raila,” said Bichachi.

Mboya attributed ODM’s loss to disappointment with the county government and frustration over ‘handpicking’ of candidates. In the past, some party officials have been accused of demanding bribes from contenders to give them tickets to contest. “Messages of the ODM team did not meet the expectations of the electorate. In addition, Siaya County is not delivering to them and the voters may have been seeking an alternative leader who has been tried before,” he said.

Most Ugenya residents interviewed said they voted against Karan to “teach’ some leaders a lesson for being arrogant and drunk with power.” “There is this leader who came here chest thumping that if we don’t elect Karan, we will not get any development projects,” said Samwel Ouma, a voter.

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