Raila, Ruto parties change tack in grassroots polls

ODM Leader Raila Odinga addressing the press after the Central Committee meeting of the ODM Party at Capitol Hill Square. [Emmanuel Wanson, Standard]

Faced with the daunting challenge of conducting elections, the country’s two major political parties this week made a tactical retreat, choosing to stagger their polls.

The move, seen as a strategy to test the waters, given the polarising effect of party elections, comes in the wake of months of pushing and shoving within their ranks, which threatened their stability.

President William Ruto’s United Democratic Alliance announced it would hold its grassroots polls between April 26 and August 24. Raila Odinga’s Orange Democratic Movement announced it would start its elections a day after UDA kicks off theirs.

UDA’s decision was a U-turn from initial intentions to hold elections on a single day, with President Ruto arguing last year that quick polls would help mitigate fallouts.

ODM Director of Elections Junet Mohamed told The Saturday Standard that ODM’s move to stagger the polls was informed by “logistical issues” and not jitters over potential fallouts that have accompanied past party primaries.

“Counties are very far from each other and it would be difficult to move from one place to another. We have them on different dates to avoid logistical challenges. We are eager for the elections, which are always aimed at having the right people in office,” said the Suna East MP.

While many posts are up for grabs during the grassroots polls, it is the top roles that have attracted the most interest. In ODM, for instance, the race for the party leadership is heating up amid Raila’s imminent exit as he seeks the African Union Commission chairperson role.

Former Governors Wycliffe Oparanya (Kakamega) and Hassan Joho (Mombasa), who double as Raila’s deputies, are interested in succeeding the former prime minister and have sparked faction wars within ODM.

A source, who did not want to be named, however, yesterday told The Saturday Standard: “If you check with the Registrar of Political Parties, you will realise that elections for ODM national offices are not due until 2027.”

He said the question of who will be contesting for what position at the national level cannot arise now. Despite that, interest in national seats is the one generating more debate.

While the majority of lawmakers support Oparanya, those from the Coast and North Eastern favour Joho, who is assembling his team that comprises Narok Senator Ledama ole Kina, Junet and Embakasi East MP Babu Owino.

The fight for ODM’s leadership has also drawn interest from Raila’s Nyanza backyard, which feels it should bag the position given the party is most popular in the region.

National Assembly Minority Leader Opiyo Wandayi is seen as a potential successor to Raila.

Days ago, MPs from Nyanza endorsed him to take over the party’s leadership. The Ugunja MP also recently said that he would make a stab at the post if a vacancy were to arise. Wandayi is ODM’s current Director of Political Affairs. 

Kisii Governor Simba Arati has largely kept mum about his intentions for the top seat. The ODM deputy chairperson has previously sought the position where he challenged Raila but later stepped down.

The race for deputy party leader is also mouthwatering. So far, Homa Bay Governor Gladys Wanga has been fronted as Joho’s replacement and she is said to be in his soon-to-be-unveiled camp.

She is facing competition from Saboti MP Caleb Amisi, who told The Saturday Standard that he would seek Oparanya’s role. The two-term MP is among young MPs caucusing under “team ground”, a bipartisan formation that seeks to pile pressure on the government as an alternative to the traditional opposition. Amisi is ODM’s deputy organising secretary.

With ODM chairperson John Mbadi exiting office, the contest for his plum job could arouse interest. In a recent press briefing, Babu said he would be seeking to replace the Nominated MP. Arati could choose a promotion to the chairperson position, which would open up a vacancy in the deputy role.

As things stand, Nairobi Senator Edwin Sifuna is sitting pretty as ODM’s secretary-general, as the trusted Raila ally has faced no challenge.

Other positions on offer include the treasurer’s role, currently held by former Kitutu Masaba MP Timothy Bosire, among other key National Executive Committee posts.

While UDA’s leadership is settled, it is the deputy leader’s position that has caused jitters. Previous plans to introduce a second deputy leader slot, which would dilute Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua’s role, have faced opposition, prompting the president’s intervention to shelve the proposal.

The contest for the secretary-general’s post is perhaps the hottest in Ruto’s party.

UDA secretary general Cleophas Malala faces a potential challenge from Kiharu MP Ndindi Nyoro, highly favoured among Mt Kenya MPs, who believe they should bag the influential position.

UDA officials, including its chairperson, Embu Governor Cecily Mbarire, are in office on an interim basis, meaning the party’s primaries could be fierier.