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Raila Odinga's pre-poll zoning gamble that could dent Azimio numbers

Azimio la Umoja Coalition flag bearer Raila Odinga in Masalani Garissa County on June 27, 2022. [Emmanuel Wanson, Standard]

The recent resolution to zone regions for the Azimio la Umoja-One Kenya Coalition and give the dominant parties the choice to pick their preferred candidates has exposed the coalition.

The gamble could benefit or hurt the President Uhuru Kenyatta and Raila Odinga-led alliance in the August election.

The move also puts the political future of a number of candidates allied to the coalition across the country in limbo. Some will be forced to shelve their ambitions midway. A meeting of the Azimio council on Friday chaired by Mr Odinga resolved that for the coalition to win more seats it needed to ensure only one candidate is fielded.

Parties allied to Azimio were assigned regions where they are expected to dominate in the election.

“After reviewing reports regarding the party’s ongoing campaign preparations for the election, the council approved a strategy to synergise the strength brought by each party to the coalition by harmonising candidates in all elective positions,” said Junet Mohamed, Azimio’s secretary-general.

The move will hurt candidates from fringe parties who have been vying in the regions assigned to dominant parties.

But, the zoning of the regions could reduce competition in Nyanza, Western, Coast, and Lower Eastern, creating voter apathy. During an interview with Citizen TV in April, ODM National Elections Board chairperson Catherine Mumma termed zoning a tricky and sensitive affair that only benefits small parties confined to certain places.

Ms Mumma said the party would field candidates across the country because any attempt not to would work against the party. “We are one of the hesitant parties when it comes to zoning. Sharing zones among coalition partners could hurt ODM,” she said. Political risk analyst Dismas Mokua said: “If you force candidates to step down for preferred hopefuls, you risk causing voter apathy. It could be counterproductive in that disgruntled supporters could vote for the rival candidate.”

Yesterday, singer Bahati became the first casualty of the zoning when a joint delegates meeting of ODM and Jubilee on Monday led by ODM Secretary General Edwin Sifuna said Azimio had settled on Anthony Aluoch for Mathare.

However, Mr Sifuna said Bahati, who was seeking the seat under a Jubilee ticket, will be offered a job should Azimio win the election. “Zoning was done perfectly; even here in Mathare. We have agreed that it is an ODM zone,” he said.

Appalled by the news, Bahati took to social media to refute the claims that he had agreed to step down. “Dear Azimio, stop misleading the voters of Mathare. Bahati has not stepped down for anyone,” he said. “Give the people of Mathare a chance to get the leader they have always wanted. I did not come into politics to get a job because I already had one. They deserve someone who understands them.”

Rationalised zoning

In Nyanza, ODM chair John Mbadi on Saturday said they set up a committee to rationalise zoning which will include Kisumu, Siaya, Homa Bay, Migori, Kisii, and Nyamira.

Speaking alongside Kisii Governor James Ong’wae, the leaders said they hope to have ODM candidates have an upper hand in the region. Away from ODM, the region has had a number of candidates from other parties allied to Azimio that are battling for seats. In Kisumu, the incumbent, Prof Anyang’ Nyong’o, is battling it out with former governor Jack Ranguma for the Kisumu seat on the Movement for Democracy and Growth party led by Ugenya MP David Ochieng. 

In Siaya, Senator James Orengo is squaring it out with former Rarieda MP Nicholas Gumbo who is running for on the United Democratic Movement (UDM) party. In Homa Bay, former Nairobi Governor Evans Kidero will face it out with woman representative Gladys Wanga (ODM).

Mr Ranguma and Eng Gumbo are the likely casualties of the zoning and may be forced to quit the races.

Incumbents affected

In Kisii and Nyamira, a number of the governor candidates will also be affected, including the incumbent Nyaribo (UPA).

In Ukambani, a number of big names are likely to be casualties if Wiper is given the leeway to decide who will be the candidate. One of the conditions party leader Kalonzo Musyoka cited to return to Azimio was to have lower eastern zoned under Wiper. In the recent tour of Ukambani with Mr Odinga, Mr Musyoka urged residents to vote for Wiper candidates. He called on the Machakos governor candidate on a Chama Cha Uzalendo party Nzioka Waita to step down for Wiper’s Wavinya Ndeti.

Makueni Governor Prf Kivutha Kibwana, former Kitui Senator David Musila, Waita and a number of MPs may be forced to step down should they find the Azimio coalition binding.

Coast, which was seen as predominantly in support of ODM, will see the party call the shots which could edge out former Nairobi Governor Mike Sonko in the race in favour of Mvita MP Abdulswamad Mohamed. In Western, ODM and Defence CS Eugene Wamawa’s DAP-K will agree on areas where candidates will step down. But on Sunday, former Lugari MP and UDP leader Cyrus Jirongo, who is vying for Kakamega senator, said he will defy efforts by Azimio to ask certain candidates to withdraw their bids.

Mr Jirongo said although he is supporting Mr Odinga, he was not ready to entertain the idea of dropping out to favour another candidate.