May 26th 2017

Top Stories / 2017 Elections

Nyanza 'apathy' spells doom for ODM's tough nomination rules

In Migori, only Ms Anne Anyanga and Ochilo Ayako had bought the papers, and two aspirants each for the senatorial and women representative seats. The same level of apathy was registered in parliamentary races in Homa Bay, Kakamega, Vihiga, Mombasa, Kilifi, Nyamira and Taita Taveta counties.

By Free Press Reporternewsdesk@kenyafreepress.comMonday, 02 Jan 2017 14:33 EAT

ODM National Election Board chairperson Judy Pareno (left) and Former board member Peter Odoyo at Orange House. (Photo: Courtesy/Daily Nation).

The decision by the Orange Democratic Movement to conduct its nominations earlier than usual is emerging as a political miscalculation following the emergence of teething problems that have forced a reassessment of the viability of the rule, which may now have to be totally revised, according to party insiders. Last October, ODM National Elections Board promulgated new regulations requiring politicians aspiring to run on the party's ticket to register their interest by December 31, 2016.

The practicality of the rule was always in question, the Kenya Free Press has learnt, but party officials put a united front in its support, seeing it as a potential solution to infighting that has usually marked the party's preparation for general elections following fallouts from rigged internal nominations. There are those who felt that, being the largest party ODM should have left the window for new members from politicians who normally defect from fringe parties to the larger ones ahead of elections, provided the aspirants complied with national electoral laws.

Secondly, some insiders (including party chairman John Mbadi) pushed the notion that nomination fallouts, often marked by violence, are restricted to the party's main strongholds of Nyanza and Coast regions, and these should be addressed by ensuring the conduct of free and fair nominations rather than locking out potential new members to the party. However, Mr Mbadi's views were overruled, forcing him to come up with a case-by-case assurance to some party hopefuls that has rocked the party's operations in a number of counties.

According to well placed sources, the lapse of the December 31 deadline confronted the party with the stark reality of apathy among aspiring candidates that eventually forced it to extend the deadline by ten days. While the party’s National Elections Board chairperson Judy Pareno had put a brave face claiming that the board was impressed by the “overwhelming response” it had received over the last two months, the reality was the complete opposite, according to a summary of applications conducted by party officials.

Hours to the lapse of the deadline, Ms Pareno had told the Nation: “We are happy with the progress of the applications, but the deadline remains December 31. Many people are streaming into our headquarters. It is important to note that we will not extend the deadline.” By the deadline, only four Kisumu gubernatorial aspirants had purchased papers for the nomination: current Kisumu senator Anyang Nyongo, deputy governor Ruth Odinga, and newcomers Asaka Nyangara and Hezron Macobewa. Even the incumbent, Jack Ranguma, had not complied.

The same state of affairs existed in Migori, where only two gubernatorial aspirants, Ms Anne Anyanga and former cabinet minister Ochilo Ayako, had bought the papers. At the time, only two aspirants had bought the nomination documents for the Migori senatorial and women representative seats. The same level of apathy was registered in parliamentary races in Homa Bay, Kakamega, Vihiga, Mombasa, Kilifi, Nyamira and Taita Taveta counties.

"When you have an appreciably high number of aspirants keeping off the process, you know there is a problem. And you must start by looking at what the problem could be internally because we know there are more aspirants whose applications we have not received," said a party source. By the close of business on December 31, the party was forced to extend the deadline by 10 days, which an insider said was still very ambitious.

In Migori, the problem was compounded by the fear long broached by Mr Mbadi that Governor Okoth Obado could be locked out if the rules were not revised. Though he was a member of ODM, Mr Obado defected from the party in 2013 following controversial nominations. He won the seat as a member of the People's Democratic Party (PDP) but has indicated his readiness to rejoin ODM. The governor's opponents including Mr Ayako and Ms Anyanga would not want him to rejoin ODM.

During a controversial visit to Migori last Friday where the governor was being crowned as an Uriri elder at Rapogi Boys High School, Mr Mbadi said that ODM should conduct free and fair nominations and suggested that the tough deadline would lock some party supporters out. A local politician who was elected on the little-known Agano Party ticket, North Kadem MCA Boaz Okoth, asked Mr Mbadi to ensure that ODM nominations in Migori County were free and fair.

Speaking on a Luo venercular station, Mbadi also bemoaned the way ODM "hemorrhages support every election cycle". Citing the example of Nyatike constituency which had not seen competitive nominations since 2007, he said nomination disputes in ODM give other parties an advantage. In 2007, the Nyatike parliamentary nominations, then pitting outgoing MP Ochola Ogur, Mr Edick Anyanga and Dr Mark Ogutu, were marked by violence. For nearly a week, ODM had not identified the rightful candidates for parliamentary and civic races.

When the dispute was finally resolved, Mr Anyanga managed to fly to Nairobi and present his nomination papers, but all the aspiring councillors who used road transport were time-barred, allowing PNU aspirants who had filed their papers at local Electoral Commission offices to win unopposed. In 2013, the party did not conduct nominations, handing the ticket to incumbent Mr Anyanga in the last minute. This created an anti-ODM backlash. While the people eventually voted for Mr Anyanga, five out of the seven ODM county representative candidates were defeated.

Rigged nominations for the Senate seat, which the party headquarters unilaterally handed to Dr Wilfred Machage also saw a backlash from the Kuria community which elected most of its leaders on tickets other than ODM. "The reality is that despite it being the dominant party in Migori, ODM does not command the leadership it deserves," Mr Mbadi had said in the radio interview.

However, the chairman's critics in Migori have called for his resignation, alleging that he is favouring Mr Obado over bonafide ODM members. Mr Anyanga, whose wife Anne is one of Governor Obado's main challengers, claimed that Mr Mbadi was "on the pay" of the governor. The same line was taken by local candidates aligned with Ms Anyanga and Mr Ayako, who see Mr Mbadi's campaign for the governor to participate in ODM nominations as inimical to their interests.

But Mr Anyanga was only the latest entrant in the anti-Mbadi brigade in Nyanza that also includes Kisumu deputy governor Ruth Odinga and Kasipul Kabondo MP Oyugi Magwanga, both of whom accuse the chairman of favouring the re-election of all the four governors in Siaya, Kisumu, Homa Bay and Migori counties. As the Kenya Free Press reported in October, ODM has considered giving its governors automatic re-election tickets.

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