Azimio la Umoja presidential candidate Raila Odinga is engaged in crucial talks to stop ODM and DAP-K aspirants from running against each other in hotly contested areas.
Sources say the ODM leader is worried that they may lose seats to Deputy President William Ruto’s Kenya Kwanza Alliance if Azimio sister parties all field candidates against each other.
A meeting convened by Raila with MPs from Western Kenya on Thursday has now generated heated debate among aspirants seeking various seats in the region.
Raila’s appears to have decided to personally take charge after previously assigning COTU Secretary General Francis Atwoli the task of talking to ODM and DAP-K leaders in the region.
Sources claim Raila managed to convince some parliamentary aspirants in Kakamega county to shift from the recently registered DAP-K party to ODM.
Among those allegedly approached was Shinyalu MP Justus Kizito Mugali, who had earlier declared his interest in the Kakamega governor’s seat.
Asked if it was true that Raila had suggested that he runs for the senator seat instead, the MP said such a discussion did not take place.
He, however, said he was now going to focus on recapturing his parliamentary seat on an ODM ticket.
The MP opposed calls by some leaders in Kakamega who are pushing for political party zoning but said Raila is a democrat who will not allow others to be locked out because of party affiliation.
“Nothing like that was discussed but my opinion is the more the candidates we have in Azimio, the bigger the voter turnout that Raila will get,” said Kizito.
Speaking in Swahili, Kizito added: “Hawa wote ni watoto wa baba, awache tu wanyoroshane. Tusiwafungie watu wengine nje (they are all Raila’s supporters. Let’s not lock anyone out).”
Sources said others who have already been asked to decamp include Emmanuel Wangwe who is to move from Jubilee to ODM, Tindi Mwale (Butere) and Peter Nabulindo (Matungu) both from DAP-K to ODM.
On Thursday evening, a local TV station announced that during the meeting, Raila proposed that DAP-K aspirants in Kakamega and Vihiga counties join ODM, while those in Bungoma and Trans Nzoia who are in ODM shift to DAP-K.
Amid the talk on Raila’s efforts, DAP-K party leader Wafula Wamunyinyi says they have not been engaged in any consultations on zoning.
“DAP-K is not a regional party. But even if there was any zoning then the entire Western would be reserved for our party,” the Kanduyi MP told journalists during a meeting with aspirants in Nairobi on Friday when asked DAP-K would cede Vihiga, Kakamega and Busia to ODM, which would return the favour in Bungoma and Trans Nzoia.
Despite the denial, former Cabinet minister Dr Noah Wekesa was present at the meeting chaired by Raila to represent DAP-K while ODM was represented by Kakamega Governor Wycliffe Oparanya.
Defence Cabinet Secretary Eugene Wamalwa, the DAP-K patron, is, however, also opposed to calls for zoning, averring that by allowing Azimio parties to field candidates for respective seats, Raila would benefit from the resulting mobilisation of voters by a cross-section of aspirants.
“Instead of boosting Raila’s chances, zoning will dwindle them. If our aspirants campaign for Raila and other aspirants from our partners do the same, I have no doubt Raila will be the president,” said Wamalwa.
The CS, who spoke at the aspirants' meeting, assured that DAP-K would not disappoint them, a pointer that Raila has a big task ahead in brokering a truce.
He said it was unfair to restrict “Kenya’s fastest-growing party” into two counties: Trans Nzoia and Bungoma, terming it a drawback in democracy. “Competition is healthy for our democracy,” Wamalwa said.
Separately, Lugari MP Ayub Savula, the DAP-K governor candidate, described the discussion on zoning as “very dangerous talk which at this critical hour” can spell doom for both Azimio and its presidential candidate in the region.
Savula, however, insists that democracy should prevail and people should be allowed to decide and there should be no zoning.
“Anyone advancing that kind of idea is playing into the hands of Ruto. It will give an advantage to our rivals because people will pull back and focus on their own campaigns,” said Savula.
He asked Raila to ignore those pushing for zoning and consolidate the goodwill he enjoys from both ODM and DAP-K supporters in the region. Otherwise, he risks causing a backlash.
“DAP-K has now made its presence felt across the region in a very short period, making local ODM leaders very uncomfortable but it is the discontent they created by bulling some members that are making some leaders defect from Raila’s,” says political analyst Martin Andati.
ODM officials in western led by deputy partly leader Oparanya had complained to Raila about “the confusion” DAP-K was causing, warning that it could cost Azimio la Umoja seats in Kakamega county.
In Trans Nzoia, ODM aspirants accused DAP-K of planning to zone the county.
Addressing the press in Kitale, branch secretary John Simiyu said ODM is popular in the region and could not be swallowed by emerging smaller parties.
“Trans Nzoia is not in Western as purported by our competitors but it is in Rift Valley which has all communities residing in and thus with all political interests represented,” he pointed out.
Additional reporting by Martin Ndiema