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ODM’s ‘internal bleeding’ jolts its fight for life but leaders hopeful

By Jacob Ngetich | April 14th 2019
ODM candidate in Embakasi South by-election Irshad Sumra with party Secretary General Edwin Sifuna address the press at Mukuru educational poling centre on April 5. [File, Standard]

After 14 years of existence and dominance, the Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) seems to be at a crossroads as it battles dwindling popularity.

The losses in recent by-elections in Ugenya and Embakasi South constituencies as well as the withdrawal of ODM’scandidate in the upcoming Wajir West mini poll, have exposed the party’s soft underbelly.

The handshake between ODM leader Raila Odinga and President Uhuru Kenyatta does not make it any better, as the party’s attention is now divided between supporting the government and playing the opposition role.

But some leaders attribute the troubles to mismanagement and call for a swift change in the party’s top leadership.

“The leadership of the party has been weakening and the party leader must act now to save the ship from sinking. The top leadership was only replaced with mediocrity,” says Kilifi North MP Owen Baya.

According to Prof Mutahi Ngunyi, ODM is suffering from what he terms internal bleeding that has strongly impacted on itsstature.

“It’s a self-inflicted bleeding that needs candidness to address,” says Ngunyi.

He says the handshake is a suicide pill the opposition leader swallowed and is now threatening to decimate his party.

“ODM was built on the spirit of opposition politics, when they stop fighting hegemony the party loses gravitas, it’s like itsbattery is removed from it,” says Prof Ngunyi.

Baya is not alone in his call for a change in the party’s leadership. ODM Director of Political Affairs Wafula Buke says the issues in the party are known and the only solution is to deal with them decisively.

“We have a document to guide us in our action, if we do not conclusively deal with the issues at the national level, then we will from the grassroots,” says Buke.

For Buke, crimes have been committed in the party and a shakeup is necessary if the party is to regain its composure.

“The next step for ODM is to remove some people from the party positions and punish them for their poor performance,” he says.

A month ago, ODM’s National Delegates Conference (NDC) chaired by Raila, in its report, indicted the party’s leadership for bungled party primaries, which it said had disenfranchised some of its ardent members and supporters.

The report accused the National Elections Board (NEB) of not having clear guidelines for aspirants and no credible party membership list, forcing NEB to use the 2013 Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) voters’ register.

The NDC team comprised Catherine Mumma, Lawrence Gumbe, Alfelt Mumbo, Abio Gunda and Embakasi South parliamentary hopeful Irshad Sumra. They fell short of declaring ODM party primaries a sham.

Dispute resolution

The report questioned the compilation of the party list and the dispute resolution mechanism, among other concerns.

“The greatest vice of ODM is the rigged electoral system for conducting the party primaries,” reads the report.

Raila however downplays his party’s dismal performance in the just concluded by-elections and describes the losses as a “drop in the ocean”.

He insists the Orange party is still strong.

He says it would be a tall order to tie the results of the two by-elections with the prospects of the opposition party.

“I’m not at all bothered that the party lost, I wonder why people read too much into that,” Raila said early in the week.

Party deputy leader Wycliffe Oparanya equally dismisses those trying to rate ODM based on results of the elections.

“Elections are local while ODM is a national party, you cannot use a by-election to rank a party,” Oparanya told the Sunday Standard.

Party Secretary General Edwin Sifuna has been oscillating between being boisterously confident and playing defensive about the loss of the seats.

“We might have only been carried away by the turnout at public rallies. But it is a wake up call. We could have managed the campaign better to remain strong,” he says.

But the reality from the previous results could offer a clear picture that the party is on a downward trend.

In 2007, the party had 103 MPs of the total 222, clearly controlling almost half of Parliament. In 2013, however, Raila’s party won in 78 constituencies and 68 in 2017, signifying significant drops in the numbers.

Political analysts say the party is in denial of its current wasting state.

But ODM chair John Mbadi has asked their supporters to be patient as they re-assess prospects of the party.

Alive to the fact that something must give in, Mbadi says a massive restructuring plan to strengthen the party’s electoral process and grassroots leadership is in the offing ahead of the 2022 General Elections.

Scary by-elections

“This is obviously going to be a pretty tough job. But we will try. The by-elections were pretty scary and daunting but it was really an eye-opening experience,” Mbadi says.

But there are those in the party, led by Baya, who believe the national leadership cannot midwife changes and must therefore step aside.

“There has been no consultations in the party, and most people no longer feel as part of the family. An overhaul is needed in the top leadership to bring freshness,” says Baya.

Kisumu Governor Anyang’ Ngong’o, the longest serving ODM secretary general, says the party, like others, is going through teething issues that the NDC will resolve.

“We need to have party policies trickle down to the grassroots so that we can have a party that communicates with everyone of its members across the country,” says Nyong’o who insists that the party is still strong.

In a bid to have members toe the party line, ODM in February expelled Malindi MP Aisha Jumwa, the first of its tough disciplinary actions in its existence.

Ms Jumwa has challenged the expulsion at the High Court.

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