It’s race against time for ODM as 2022 poll looms

ODM party leader Raila Odinga addressing residents of Bottom line in Kangemi, Nairobi. Raila was on a whirlwind tour of Westlands Constituency to popularise the BBI. [Edward Kiplimo, Standard]

There is a renewed sense of urgency for Raila’s party to put its house in order ahead of the General Election next year amid fears their opponents have hit the ground running.

The Orange Democratic Movement’s announcement that it had begun the process of identifying its flag bearer has signalled a renewed sense of urgency within the party to put its house in order ahead of 2022 polls.

Through its Secretary-General Edwin Sifuna, ODM on Wednesday said it had invited those interested in seeking the presidency to make their bids and would place an advert on the same in the daily newspapers by Saturday.

It also came after a meeting of the party’s powerful Central Management Committee where sources indicate there was a feeling among some members that their opponents had hit the ground running while they were lagging behind in preparing themselves for the 2022 race.

Already, Deputy President William Ruto, ODM party’s main challenger, has hit the campaign trail vigorously, billing the next presidential election around the ‘hustlers versus dynasties’ narrative. ODM leader Raila Odinga is widely perceived to be Ruto’s main challenger, but he is yet to officially declare that he will be on the ballot.

Ruto on the move

Deputy President William Ruto addresses Kapsiglai residents-Cherangany Constituency in Trans Nzoia County in a past fundraiser. [FIle, Peter Ochieng, Standard]

Ruto has made no secret of his intention to succeed his boss, President Uhuru Kenyatta, at State House in August next year, and together with his allies are covering the country marketing the newly re-branded United Democratic Alliance (UDA) party and his candidature.

The push by ODM to focus on the succession race is being seen in some quarters as driven by fears that Raila’s handshake partner Uhuru may fail to rally his supporters in Mt Kenya to back the ODM party leader in the wake of a resurgent Ruto.

Raila, on the other hand, has in recent days been actively out on the campaign trail to popularise the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) birthed of the March 2018 handshake between him and Uhuru.

ODM Leader Hon. Raila Odinga, address resident Kangemi flyover on 21st January 2021.[Edward Kiplimo,Standard]

While Raila has been actively leading the push to change the 2010 Constitution through BBI, some of his lieutenants are worried that any further delay in launching his race to State House could disadvantage him. Sources at the meeting on Wednesday said there was a feeling that Mt Kenya, Uhuru’s backyard, may not add much to Raila’s vote basket owing to its perceived lukewarm reception to the initiative.

There are, however, those of the view that the party leader’s current push for a referendum will not derail his quest for the top job.

ODM national chairman John Mbadi yesterday admitted that there were concerns over an apparent lack of political machinery to popularise the proposed changes as well as infighting among their partners in the Jubilee Party. Mbadi, who is also National Assembly Minority leader, said his party would now begin preparations for the next polls, terming the BBI a ‘national issue’ that should not bother ODM alone.

Shift attention to 2022

“We have been saying consistently that it was too early for 2022 campaigns. But the right time has now come because the elections are about 18 months away. As we continue supporting the proposed reforms, we have to prepare as a party for the next elections,” said Mbadi.

His views were shared by ODM Treasurer Timothy Bosire, who was at the Wednesday meeting and said they felt the need to reorganise the party by putting its candidate forward for the race without interrupting their push for changing the constitution.

“It is our wish that it (BBI) remains as was planned and we are in it to the end. But we are trying to refocus on 2022 with a view to being ready for the contest,” he said.

Apart from the CMC meeting by the top officials, in the last two weeks, Raila has held a series of other meetings across the city, including one with youths, women and MCAs. He has also held public rallies in Embakasi, Ruaka, Burma market and another in Kangemi yesterday to popularise BBI.

ODM Leader Hon. Raila Odinga, address resident of bottom line Kangemi. [Edward Kiplimo, Standard]

Other meetings have been caucuses with song artistes, Kenya Moja group led by Maina Njenga and an earlier interaction with Muslim leaders in Mombasa, all pointing to a re-energised Raila.

An ODM MP who sought anonymity said there was a feeling that their opponents were now making strong inroads in Coast, Western and Kisii regions, which were their strongholds, and that there was need for ODM to urgently put its affairs in order and shift its attention to 2022.

“If we are not careful we will start trailing our competitors. We no longer have time to waste,” said the MP.

On Wednesday, the party’s powerful Central Management Committee resolved to have ODM activate its networks with an eye on the big prize.

“The party’s Central Committee has at its meeting this morning resolved to officially launch preparations for the 2022 elections,” said Secretary-General Edwin Sifuna at a press conference after the meeting.

Structured Talks

Also pointing to the party’s game plan moving forward was its announcement that it would henceforth engage in structured talks with other parties, seen as a pointer to building pre-election alliances ahead of the 2022 General Election.

Starting from a defeat in Msambweni last month to an independent candidate allied to Ruto, the party is seeking to test its muscle again by fielding candidates in the forthcoming by-elections slated for March 4 in Matungu and Kabuchai.

Coast region has been perceived as an ODM zone and the win by Feisal Bader was seen in some quarters as a warning of the party’s waning influence in the region. Those anxious to set the ball rolling for 2022 feel the party may be spending too much time pushing the BBI agenda, instead of also focusing on next year’s elections.

But other leaders like Kisumu East MP Shakeel Shabbir thinks Raila is on the right track and should not slow down on the law change initiative. According to Shabbir, Raila should ignore pressure to abandon his BBI campaigns as he had invested so much on the initiative.

“Raila has his own strategy on 2022. He has invested a lot on BBI and should not just leave it in the middle of nowhere. It will not augur well for him if he abandons BBI,” Shabbir said.

Rangwe MP Lilian Gogo said Raila was an astute politician with capacity to run both the BBI and 2022 campaigns concurrently.

“He has the energy to run both. BBI is a child of the handshake. It is his brainchild and he cannot abandon it for anything,” Gogo said.

She said BBI objectives were not pegged on 2022 politics and was essential for peace in the country.

Restless Mt Kenya

Though Mbadi acknowledged that their partners in Mount Kenya had shown lack of enthusiasm towards the initiative, he said this was expected given that President Kenyatta was leaving office.

He said the confusion in Mt Kenya over BBI was due to succession politics where the region was more concerned over who would replace Uhuru.

“On our side, we have a very clear command because our leader has not indicated that he is retiring; so there are no succession fights,” he said.

Mbadi said some of the claims that the document was not popular in Mt Kenya were being fuelled by the fight for space within the arrangement by some of the politicians.

“People come into such initiatives with various personal interests. Some want to use the BBI to propel themselves, some may be fighting for space. It could be that the document is not necessarily unpopular, but those complaining are pushing for more space or those already within the arrangement fighting for more space for whatever interests,” he added.

Nominated MP Godfrey Osotsi said Raila’s chance of ascending to the presidency was not tied to the success or failure of the planned referendum.

 [Additional reporting by Mactildah Mbenywe]