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Thursday, 20 Apr 2017 11:59 EATnewsdesk@kenyafreepress.com
The ODM primaries that were scheduled to take place in Homa Bay County tomorrow April 21 have been postponed to Monday April 24, precipitating anxiety among aspirants and local party officials who say they were caught unawares by the decision by the National Elections Board.
Five governorship aspirants, a couple of senatorial aspirants and dozens seeking the party's nod for parliamentary seats in the region were forced back to the drawing board, recalling agents who were being deployed to polling stations and recasting electoral plans in light of an extension of the campaign period by a further three days.
The Homa Bay nominations are the most hotly fought in ODM in the entire country and are being watched closely by ODM and non-party groups alike. Incumbent governor Cyprian Awiti and Senator Moses Kajwang are facing tight contests, with the former going head-to-head with Kasipul MP Oyugi Magwanga in some constituencies, according to opinion surveys.
Senator Kajwang, who won the 2015 senatorial nomination on the back of sympathies for his late brother Otieno Kajwang's death, faces a scare of his life from businessman Fred Rabongo, while MPs from Mbita, Ndhiwa, Rangwe, Homa Bay Town and Kabondo Kasipul are unsure about the outcome of the poll, given tough local opposition.
As the campaign peaked momentum early this month, claims emerged that the election was being rigged, and some aspirants blamed the ODM National Elections Board of appointing election officials allied with incumbents. As part of the Board's move to assure the aspirants, it decreed that the primaries be conducted in all IEBC-designated polling stations, the only place where the party is doing this. Elsewhere, the party has merged some polling stations to reduce the expense of conducting the exercise.
By this morning, local Election Board officials had supplied ballot materials to the polling stations, only for the postponement to be announced from Nairobi. Some aspirants criticised the decision, decrying the huge logistical ramifications for their poorly resourced campaigns. But a NEB official who sought anonymity to discuss delicate election issues informed the Kenya Free Press that the decision was taken to forestall anticipated rigging of the vote. He said that party members had nabbed thousands of fake ballot papers under the custody of one aspirant's associates.
The source alleged that the papers were caught in a vehicle whose occupants were linked to Ruaraka MP Tom Kajwang, whose brother Moses is facing a tough battle against businessman Rabongo. As the younger Kajwang is allied with Governor Awiti's opponent Oyugi Magwanga, discovery of the papers sent alarm that the vote for other positions could be affected.
According to investigations by this website, Senator Kajwang's electoral disadvantages have weighed heavily on Mr Magwanga's campaign in recent days, undermining an offensive the MP had made in constituencies such as Kabondo Kasipul, Rangwe and his own home base of Kasipul. Some voters were being repelled by the senator's last minute campaign blitz, against a record of nearly three years in office when he never visited their localities.
By contrast, his opponent Mr Rabongo, who is well resourced, is reported to have complimented Governor Awiti's campaigns in some areas where the governor initially faced opposition including Mr Magwanga's Kasipul backyard. A rally Mr Awiti held in Oyugis town last weekend was unexpectedly heavily attended, according to our sources, and more speakers spoke against Mr Magwanga's campaign that the governor's camp had anticipated.
The governor's campaign in Kasipul also benefited from the soaring popularity of local parliamentary aspirant Ongondo Were, who this afternoon condemned the emergence of fake ballot papers and declared that his campaign would guard against rigging at all costs. The MP's supporters believe he was cheated out of victory in the 2013 elections.
While Mr Magwanga has run an aggressive campaign, some challenges of running a governorship campaign have come to light in his campaign only in the run-up to the primaries, including the lack of strong allies in some areas. In constituencies such as Kabondo Kasipul and Karachuonyo, a vast majority of aspirants for parliamentary and MCA seats are allied with Mr Awiti, reflecting in part the benefits of incumbency.
Developments such as these had made the Awiti camp more confident as the vote neared, and the postponement of elections on rigging fears will only cement his advantage with voters hopeful of a peaceful exercise. While Mr Awiti's strongholds are Karachuonyo, Kabondo Kasipul and Ndhiwa constituencies, Mr Magwanga held sway in Kasipul up to last week and remains strong in Rangwe and pockets of Karachuonyo.
The third candidate, Sam Wakiaga, has locked most of Suba villages but is struggling everywhere else and is therefore not expected to make a huge impact on the vote. Initially seen as the front-runner in the race to unseat Mr Awiti, Mr Wakiaga is reported to have undermined his own campaign by being too insular, entrusting on a few relatives with his campaign and itinerary.
By the time he came out to launch his campaigns, according to close analysts, he tapped for his campaign a big number of armchair politicians and youth leaders whose popularity was based on social media rather than on the ground. Some say that the only way he can make an impact in the race at this stage is to withdraw and support Mr Magwanga.
Away from the governorship and senatorial races, local analysts say the party should ensure the poll for parliamentary races is conducted in an open manner in order to forestall violence and check against voter apathy.
Cynthia Gitau contributed reporting for this article from Nairobi