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Raila's Azimio faces acid test in push to hold joint nominations

By Brian Otieno | Jan 23rd 2022 | 6 min read


ODM Party Secretary-General Edwin Sifuna, accompanied by Party's Branch Chairpersons addressing press conference, at Orange house, on Thursday, January 20, 2022. [Samson Wire. Standard].

The budding Azimio la Umoja movement will face a challenge in its plans to conduct joint nominations. The headache will arise from convincing aspirants for various elective seats to shelve their ambitions in favour of others.

On Tuesday, ODM leader Raila Odinga said the coalition partners plan to conduct joint nominations in areas outside their individual strongholds.

The arrangement also includes the coalition’s parties opting out of races in their strongholds in favour of others within Azimio.

Two days later, ODM Secretary General Edwin Sifuna and the party’s elections board secretary Abdullahi Diriye said ODM will conduct nominations for all elective seats, an exercise slated to begin on March 14.

“We will table a complete line-up of our candidates to our partners, who will also come up with theirs,” Sifuna said on Thursday after meeting county coordinators at Chungwa House, Nairobi, the party’s headquarters.

Sifuna’s remarks imply that aspirants could undergo two rounds of nominations to decide Azimio candidates in areas where constituent parties enjoy almost equal support.

The first stage will be within one’s party, with the next at the Azimio level. That could portend a double dilemma for the parties involved. 

The biggest test will be in Mt Kenya, Coast, Western, and North Eastern where there is no single dominant political formation, and each of the political parties domiciled in these regions will complicate selection of a winning candidate to face off with Deputy President William Ruto’s United Democratic Alliance (UDA).

In Mt Kenya for instance, some parties pledging allegiance to Azimio are Party of National Unity, Devolution Empowerment Party and Jubilee while a host of newer and smaller outfits are yet to commit.

In Western Kenya, Democratic Action Party-Kenya has already declared its stand while some older formations like Ford Kenya have not chosen any side yet. The scenario will be different in Nyanza, largely dominated by ODM, a central cog of Azimio. Here, contestants who secure ODM tickets are assured of full support of the Raila-led coalition. 

The emergence of parties domiciled within regions - such as Upya Movement in North Eastern and Coast’s Pamoja African Alliance (PAA) further complicates a complex situation.

PAA will compete with ODM which has in the past been the party of choice while in NEP, Upya will compete with both Jubilee and ODM, who are all members of Azimio. 

Kenya’s history is awash with parties that employ protectionist tactics to lock out others from their regions. The plot to zone regions by Azimio is in the realisation of this fact. Nairobi is among counties that may test ODM and Jubilee’s negotiating skills and Solomonic wisdom to stem sibling rivalry.

City race

This is exemplified by the looming battle for city governorship where six candidates within the Azimio fold: Governor Ann Kananu, MPs Tim Wanyonyi (Westlands) and George Aladwa (Makadara,) former Dagoretti South MP Dennis Waweru and businesspersons Anne Kagure and Richard Ngatia are interested.

The Senate race, too, will be a hard nut for Azimio. ODM Secretary General Edwin Sifuna, who has declared interest in the seat, could face off against Nominated MP Maina Kamanda.

Kajiado County is also emerging as a hot potato for Azimio. The race within the handshake coalition pits Governor Joseph ole Lenku and former Governor David Nkedianye. The winner of this contest will face United Democratic Alliance’s candidate. MPs Peris Tobiko (Kajiado East) and Katoo ole Metito (Kajiado South) are eyeing the UDA ticket, presenting a similar balancing act.

Nkedianye’s running mate, Kajiado North MP Joseph Manje, ruled out the prospect of a joint Nkedianye-Lenku bid.

“It is better if we go separately, Nkedianye under ODM and the governor with Jubilee. Conducting joint primaries will lead to dissatisfaction, which may hurt Raila’s presidential bid,” said Manje.

Over the years, parties have struggled to keep losers in primaries contented. Such arrangements have in the past led to shambolic manner in which political parties – including ODM and Jubilee, have conducted their nominations.

The outcome of the chaotic nominations has been mass defections by aggrieved losers, who seek refuge in other parties or vie as independent candidates. That was the case when former Kiambu Governor William Kabogo defected from Jubilee after losing to Francis Waititu, the former county boss, during the party’s nomination of 2017, seeking re-election on an independent ticket.

ODM also suffered after Nyali MP Mohamed Ali, who opted to go independent after losing in nominations, went ahead to win. Many more have ditched both parties, as well as others, in the wake of primaries.

Joint candidate

That could play out at the Azimio stage. The hurdle could be convincing winners from in-party nominations to step aside, given the route likely to be taken to decide the joint candidate. “It is difficult to convince people to shelve their ambitions and that is why people bolt out of parties,” says political commentator Herman Manyora, who blames inability of politicians to assess themselves objectively for their reluctance to support other candidates.

ODM is currently banking on consensus to arrive at its candidate, a method that could be replicated in Azimio. Their strategy is centred on opinion polling to determine the most popular candidate.

“If any other partner has a candidate they think is stronger, we will listen to them,” Sifuna said, an indication that the teams would favour negotiations as Raila also said.

“In Azimio, for instance, we will scientifically evaluate the strength of all parties and candidates eyeing seats under our coalition, to identify areas where best to pursue elective seats on the coalition political party and where to field candidates on individual parties,” Jubilee’s Joint Parliamentary Group Secretary and Eldas MP Adan Keynan, said.

Negotiations and opinion polls could sow mistrust, cascading the dilemma to the parliamentary seats in regions with mixed representation.

“Candidates who get party tickets also invite negative perceptions. They are accused of knowing or bribing the party’s leadership,” Manyora said.

In previous election cycles, ODM has been unable to agree with its allied parties to field joint candidates in certain races, splitting votes in some instances.

In the 2017 election, a deadlock saw ODM and Wiper field separate candidates for Mombasa governor race – Governor Hassan Joho and former Senator Hassan Omar.

A similar scenario played out in 2013, with parties in the Coalition for Reforms and Democracy (CORD) fronting distinct candidates for Nairobi Women Rep position: Sylvia Mungala (ODM), Rahab Ndambuki (Wiper) and Irene Kasalu of Ford Kenya.

In Western, ODM and partners in the former NASA have also hesitated to put their eggs in one basket. The 2017 Vihiga governor race, for instance, had Governor Wilbur Otichillo (ODM) and Yusuf Chanzu (Amani National Congress). The same was replicated in other races.

“We cannot guarantee that there won’t be people who will be disgruntled... But, as Raila said, his house has many rooms. No one will be left out,” said Sifuna.

The Jubilee coalition of 2013 had success with zoning, minimising competition between President Uhuru Kenyatta’s The National Alliance and his deputy William Ruto’s United Republican Party. The coalition’s merger ahead of the 2017 election prevented sibling rivalry.

Keynan said planning is critical in averting fallouts, and that concerned parties must zone out their strongholds and agree on a nomination framework.

“The whole essence of coalition is to build synergy among like-minded political players based on common ideology to maximise on leadership slots up for grabs. The Political Parties Amendment Bill once signed into law, will lay the foundational framework for serious coalitions built on mutual respect and joint strength among political players,” he said.

University of Nairobi lecturer Philip Owakah said individual primaries, such as that suggested by ODM, could be the best bet for Azimio.

“Primaries help parties test their strength, which may help select the best candidate in a joint ticket,” said Dr Owakah. “The incentive that a loser may get a job later may ease them into accepting to step down.”

“There are people who threaten to run for office because they hope to be ‘talked to’, bribed or paid off to resign. Some are just hoping to land plum jobs and will not hesitate to accept offers in exchange for their stepping down,” added Manyora. -Additional reporting by Moses Nyamori

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