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ODM at crossroads as other parties scheme for 2022

Time may just be ripe for the Orange Party to chart its own destiny, away from the handshake,
In Summary
• ODM is evidently stuck in the illusion of the politics of principles from the Second Liberation season.

• Time may just be ripe for the Orange party to chart its own destiny, away from the handshake,
ODM leader Raila Odinga and deputy party leader Mombasa Governor Hassan Joho at the Mama Ngina Grounds in Mombasa on August 22, 2017.
TIME RUNNING OUT! ODM leader Raila Odinga and deputy party leader Mombasa Governor Hassan Joho at the Mama Ngina Grounds in Mombasa.

If the ODM party has a department of comedy and pranks, they should disband it and send staff from that department home.

For nothing can begin to excuse the bizarre incident where they announced they had finally received the party leader’s application for the presidential ticket, then sent out a strange statement 24 hours later claiming it had all been an April Fools Day prank!

The original statement indicating ODM leader Raila Odinga, had beaten the deadline had been issued by the chair of the party’s Elections Board Catherine Mumma. The one stating it had been a prank was signed by secretary general Edwin Sifuna, adding fuel to the raging confusion.

If you were to believe them, and you can count those who believed Sifuna’s ‘clarification’ on the fingers of one hand, ODM would become the first known political party in this country to join the usually tasteless prank fest on April 1.

Intriguingly, they would go down in history books as having played a prank with the most crucial of the party’s matters — the choice of presidential candidate. I doubt that the party’s followers, for whom this is a matter of life and death, found it funny.

But even before you consider all the scenarios around the failure of Raila to conform to the party’s presidential applications deadline, it would be quite interesting, in the coming months, to see how the two who beat the deadline — Kakamega Governor Wycliffe Oparanya and his Mombasa counterpart Hassan Joho — react to it.

The presidential candidate selection process has broken several political parties since the restoration of multiparty politics. I would be surprised if the two didn’t demand that ODM adheres to its own declarations and proceeds to pick the flagbearer from just the two of them.

On what grounds would the party deny them this, yet they followed its own set timetable, and the party leader, who presumably has to be privy to details before the announcements of these programmes, clearly failed to? Will the party later reopen a window for one candidate to apply, without causing disharmony?

It is easy to see why ODM had to resort to comedy to explain such a grave matter. Weeks before that, the political sounds were rife with loud whispers that Raila was not too averse to working with DP William Ruto.

It had unsettled President Uhuru Kenyatta’s side that as soon as Raila tested negative for Covid-19, the head of state drove to Karen to have dinner with him.

While they were meeting, it seems the green light had already been given to the party’s NEB to confirm receipt of Raila’s application. Then the President and Raila went on a blitz in town next day, inspecting development projects, which of course is euphemism for ‘restoring the handshake optics to factory settings].

Once the vibe about working with Ruto had been extinguished, and the handshake returned to normal, the ‘this not about 2022’ portion of it had to be restored too, leading to the announcement that Raila hadn’t applied for the ODM ticket after all.

The handling was, however, shockingly cavalier, to say the least. ODM is caught in a very difficult spot. Convinced that it has won, and been robbed of three elections, the party has invested heavy political capital in its relationship with the President, presumably on the assumption that you need the regime and the incumbent to be on your side for you to win and actually get sworn in, this side of Africa.

However, being the biggest movement in the land, a battle-hardened machine with several general elections and referenda on its CV, it must surely see the calendar moving fast towards 2022 and wonder whether it is time to deploy its own strategy independent of the President’s whims.

As long as the party and its elected leaders have to walk on eggshells around the President and his regime, their whole gameplay has to constantly factor in his conveniences, which is hardly the way to approach a crucial election like 2022.

Sometimes I wonder what goes through the mind of a typical ODM follower. Your party enters into a sort of arrangement with the government, staking its credibility and good name on propping up the regime and giving it stability for four years, yet it doesn’t ask for anything in return.

ODM is evidently stuck in the illusion of the politics of principles from the second liberation season. Another political party in this position would have demanded a share of the Cabinet, civil service appointments, a 50-50 share of this and that, a big factory and a huge dam near the party leader’s village.

In the thankless politics of the modern era, demanding one’s pound of flesh ranks as the most pragmatic way to get to the negotiating table. It remains to be seen how the new bromance between the President and Raila will go, given that in the short term, they have to play on two different teams in the Bonchari by-election.

But given Uhuru isn’t running again, only one side of the handshake has much to lose if the next 10 months don’t go according to plan. If you ask me, the part of the political script where Raila and Ruto ‘accidentally’ run into each other during lunch hour at an exclusive restaurant in Nairobi, is long overdue, just to spread the intrigue wider!

My assessment is that the underlying issues with the ‘deep state’ that caused turbulence in the handshake in the last four or so weeks have not been sufficiently addressed, beyond the superficial attempts to paint the picture of normalcy. It is easy to say ODM is being managed, like its former cousins in Nasa, now in the One Kenya Alliance.

It is fair to say that once you get to the point where your own announcement of the party leader’s application has to be clarified as an April fools’ prank, then you have reached the point where ordinary parties take stock of their current standing, and break or form new alliances.

A mass movement has to be obsessed with communicating to the base that the journey is under control, because the longer clarity takes to reach the grassroots, the more you haemorrhage support to competitors.

It is worse when you are in an alliance with a more powerful partner, whose intentions you can’t tell clearly, as time runs out.

Time may just be ripe for the Orange party to chart its own destiny, away from the handshake, so that it doesn’t have to explain another prank next April!

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