Succession politics puts ODM's grassroots elections in jeopardy

An ODM Party Supporter carry Raila Odinga's portrait during a recruitment drive at Nairobi Kamukunji grounds on February 04, 2024. [Samson Wire, Standard]

Succession politics within the ODM party, fueled by opposition leader Raila Odinga’s upcoming exit from local politics, have placed the outfit’s grassroots elections scheduled for April in jeopardy.

 Revelations by the five-time presidential candidate that he will be vying for the African Union (AU) chairmanship seem to have sparked a scramble within his party to not only succeed him on the national stage but also as the spokesperson of the Nyanza region.

 On Tuesday, the Orange Democratic party leader is expected to chair the party’s central committee meeting, which will provide a way forward on the grassroots elections last conducted in February 2014.

 This comes at a time when there is intense behind-the-scenes jostling between his two deputies, Wycliffe Oparanya and Hassan Joho – both former governors of Kakamega and Mombasa, respectively – to become the heir apparent.

 The leaders are reportedly plotting to install their allies in ODM leadership positions and are leveraging the grassroots elections to strengthen their claims to take over the leadership mantle from Raila.

 Oparanya has been vocal, stating that he would seize the opportunity to grab the leadership baton from Raila if he clinches the continental AU seat.

 “If he succeeds in his AU bid and may not be available for local politics, I will seek the party leadership. I understand there may be other interested parties,” Oparanya said earlier this year.

 Joho also staked his claim a month ago and went further to declare his intention to run as a presidential candidate in the 2027 elections on an ODM ticket.

 “People were suggesting that I should run for a local seat in the next general election. I want to make it clear that I am finished with Mombasa politics and now focused on national politics. I will be in the presidential race in 2027,” Joho stated.

 Their allies have rallied around the idea that Raila’s departure creates a leadership vacuum, forging alliances to edge out competition and position themselves for regional political leadership.

 ODM’s national chairman John Mbadi and the National Assembly leader of minority Opiyo Wandayi have expressed interest in the Luo-Nyanza kingship position, each drawing from the strategies learned from Raila. Other contenders include Embakasi East MP Babu Owino and Rarieda MP Otiende Amollo.

 Mbadi’s bid gained momentum after Ida Odinga, Raila Odinga’s wife, publicly endorsed him as the best candidate to succeed Raila in the region. Wandayi’s leadership ambitions also received support from Senator Oburu Oginga, who described him as “a leader who will guide us.”

 However, Senator Oburu denied endorsing Wandayi, claiming he was misunderstood.

 An announcement by Mbadi, in his capacity as ODM chair, that the party might not hold its grassroots elections once again could disrupt the plans of the two deputy leaders.

 During a press conference on Wednesday, Mbadi stated that holding the grassroots elections in April was unlikely due to the absence of a properly constituted elections committee.

 “There may be challenges preventing us from conducting the grassroots elections in April because our elections committee is not in place, but the party will decide next week,” he said.

 Insiders suggest that the delay in holding elections could be a strategy by the party leadership to install leaders through consensus.

 ODM Secretary-General Edwin Sifuna, however, maintains that the party elections are still scheduled.

 When sought for comment, he dismissed the factional wars within the party, stating, “

There are no factional wars in ODM.”

 Leader of Minority Opiyo Wandayi was quick to defend the party’s image, refuting claims that succession politics were causing discord within the party established in 2005.

 “There are no factions within ODM. In fact, ODM remains a united movement under the leadership of Raila Odinga,” he emphasized.

 Regarding the possibility of not holding the grassroots elections in April, he noted, “The functioning party organs determine the party’s programs and scheduling. You should be more concerned about UDA elections, which remain uncertain.”

 Mbadi clarified, “There is no infighting. We are ensuring there are no conflicting voices in the party that would cause concern among our supporters. This is the assurance we are providing.”

 It remains to be seen how Raila will address the unrest within his party while nurturing the ambitions of his proteges and guiding the party through what has historically been a charged grassroots election process.

 The last time ODM attempted to hold its party primaries in 2014, the exercise descended into chaos as individuals in black suits disrupted the proceedings, demanding party registers and causing destruction at the Kasarani gymnasium.