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ODM beset by storms ahead of next year's poll

By Jacob Ng'etich | April 4th 2021
ODM Party Chungwa House, Nairobi on Friday 30/10/2020. [Boniface Okendo,Standard]

Opposition leader Raila Odinga's Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) is facing a myriad of political woes ahead of next year's general election.

From confusion over who will be the torch bearer, its shifty position in the Handshake between President Uhuru Kenyatta and Raila and Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) and the rising rebellion in the party hierarchy, the 16-year old party is a crossroads.

The recent conflicting statements within the party over Raila's aspirations in the 2022 presidential race has compounded the troubles of a party that for the last three years seemed to have lost traction and still trying to find its footing.

On Thursday, National Election Board (NEB) chairperson Catherine Mumma announced that three aspirants, including Raila, ODM deputy party leaders and governors Wycliffe Oparanya (Kakamega) and Mombasa's Hassan Joho, had declared interest to be the party's flag bearer in the next General Election.

Application deadline

Then 24 hours later, ODM Secretary-General Edwin Sifuna said at the close of the application period as of March 31 midnight, only Oparanya and Joho particulars had been received declaring interest in the party ticket.

This effectively meant that the party would lock Raila out of the 2022 presidential race.

"At the close of the application period, the party received only two applications from Oparanya and Joho. These will be processed in the usual manner by the National Elections Board," said Sifuna in a statement dubbed clarifications on the application for party presidential ticket for 2022.

The dubiety of the statements which Sifuna claimed was April Fools' Day prank sucked in the entire party top echelon with conflicting spins.

Before Sifuna's "clarification", ODM Chair John Mbadi and party Political Affairs Secretary Opiyo Wandayi had welcomed Raila's candidature alongside that of Joho and Oparanya and assured its members that the process will above board.

The clashing issues of the party flag bearer is not an isolated case where Raila's party has found itself in a mix up.

According to Mumma, who is legally mandated to receive nominees names from the secretariat, she appeared to be in concurrence with Sifuna, apparently to calm the storm.

"Not really, the procedure is that application are sent to the secretariat who then informs us of the number of applicants. We then meet to scrutinise the papers and to carry out the vetting moving to the next process," she stated.

The candidature of Joho and Oparanya has also caused disquiet within the party, with some insiders saying there is a general feeling that they do not stand a chance facing off with Raila.

Though the two leaders are yet to speak publicly about their applications after the March 31 deadline, insiders aware of the happenings say their absence at Raila's Karen meeting with other party leaders speak volumes.

There is also the headache of the mooted Coast region party, reportedly fronted by ODM governors Joho and Amason Kingi (Kilifi), with some of the MPs now aligned to Deputy President William Ruto.

In pitching for his bid, Joho recounts how he has stood with Raila and supported him through the good times and bad times, indicating the climax as his swearing January 30, 2018, as the People President at Uhuru Park following the disputed 2017 polls.

A week ago, Oparanya and Sifuna set tongues wagging when they suggested that BBI was no longer a priority despite the BBI secretariat co-chair Junet Mohamed having told Kenyans that the initiative was ODM's agenda.

The two, in separate events, stressed that much emphasis, including funds meant for the BBI constitutional change process, be redirected to fighting Covid-19 pandemic.

The chorus would later to be joined by Migori Governor Okoth Obado and his Busia counterpart Sospeter Ojaamong, who also voiced their opposition to the ongoing BBI referendum initiative.

The three governors and the party secretary general instead rallied for the funds to be channeled to Covid-19 mitigation measures.

But as the opposition to the BBI raged, the party that was seen to have been slowly backpedalling the process over claims of betrayal in succession politics, issued a statement later indicating that it fully supports the BBI process.

A month before, a section of ODM MPs took strong positions over the Constitution of Kenya (Amendment) Bill, 2020, accusing State officers at Office of the President (OP) at Harambee House of plotting to shortchange Raila in 2022 presidential polls.

Senator James Orengo and Rarieda MP Otiende Amollo lit the fire when they threatened to pull ODM out of the Handshake over the Matungu by-election outcome where ODM's David Were lost to ANC's Peter Nabulindo.

Sabotage efforts

Junet Mohammed, a close ally of Raila, accused Interior and Coordination Principal Secretary Karanja Kibicho of interfering with the BBI secretariat and trying to sabotage its efforts.

Insiders in ODM, according to an MP who sought anonymity, are apprehensive about the handshake and the BBI and its benefits to the party. They have now developed cold feet but have not summoned courage to tell the party leader about their reservations.

The MP said majority of his colleagues in the party were of the view that the leadership, including Raila, should put much of its focus on revamping the Orange party and prepare it for the General Election next year.

"We have very little to benefit from the BBI process, even if the constitutional change was to happen. Iif we are not prepared as a party for the elections, then we will lose the presidency and neither will we have the numbers to produce a prime minister, so priority is to build the party, not BBI," said the MP.

In February, the party announced that it will have grassroots elections in March and this month as a process to rejuvenate the political outfit.

While giving the timelines for the party polls, Raila said the exercise would help ODM strengthen its structures and inject fresh energy to the outfit.

Though the party’s elections board went ahead to announce new dates for the party’s grassroots elections, nothing has taken off with claims that there was a ploy by their opponents to infiltrate the process and sponsor 'moles'.

The planned grassroots election was scheduled to begin in February, last year, and since then the dates have been shifting.

Last September, Raila Junior, in a fiery tweet, exposed the issues bedeviling his father's party. He criticised party officials for deviating from the deeply cherished norms to chasing clout and settling political scores.

He asked ODM to find “its way back to basics” and dwell on its development agenda clearly outlined in its manifesto, focus on service delivery, promotion of democratic space and protection of private citizens’ rights.

Mr Wafula Buke, former ODM director of political affairs, yesterday said the party is undergoing a leadership ideological and generational transition, which has brought confusion in the outfit.

"In the previous set up in ODM, respect was clearly defined. The ultimate goal was what mattered and the question was, are you marching towards achieving the goal?" said Buke.

"Now we have another generational change in the party and another type of personnel. This generation wants to look at what is there for me, what is my gain. We have situation where too many people are speaking to be heard on the same thing because the me element in the political process matters more," he added.

Buke said most of the young people in ODM were not in the party to work for goals because it would deliver change to Kenyans, but are concerned on how they would gain.

"These people who joined ODM from classrooms or business are competing for space in the party and the quality of personnel in the party deteriorated there is no more discipline," said Buke.

He added: "The party lacks a person who can whip the party into line without talking Raila. We do not have a person strong enough. Raila as a global leader, a statesman, cannot tackle those thing."

Both Joho and Oparanya could not be reached on phone for comment on their presidential bids.

Raila is yet to speak the matter, opting to shelve his ambitions until after the BBI process.  

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