Why Azimio is Raila Odinga’s double-edged sword

The Azimio La Umoja coalition could turn out to be a double-edged sword for its presidential flagbearer Raila Odinga, pundits now say. How he manages it in the coming months will define his State House bid and that of the Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) after the August 9 elections.

With more than 25 political parties supporting his presidential bid, Mr Odinga – who is making the fifth stab at the country’s top job – is guaranteed voter mobilisation and vote hunt simultaneously unlike his rival Deputy President William Ruto of the Kenya Kwanza alliance.

There is a likely high voter turnout in favour of Mr Odinga, particularly in areas the parties working with him are calling the shots.

However, the ODM boss finds himself in a unique situation compared to the 2017 National Super Alliance (Nasa) political plan.

The Azimio arrangement puts Mr Odinga’s ODM between a rock and a hard place pertaining to the number of seats the party will garner in August.

As a party boasting countrywide support, some outfits in Azimio La Umoja – which is also supported by President Uhuru Kenyatta and who has since endorsed Mr Odinga for the presidency – could lock it out by denying it victory or risk losing to Dr Ruto’s United Democratic Alliance (UDA) in areas its affiliates would also have candidates.

Since the Azimio presidential candidate has ruled out joint nominations, the decision is likely to hurt the coalition’s strength in the Council of Governors, National Assembly, Senate and county assemblies just like Nasa lost some seats in Nairobi to Jubilee in 2017.

Joint nominations

In the case of Lang’ata constituency, ODM and Wiper party – both in Nasa – fielded candidates.

ODM leaders and members believe it lost the seat because of partners in Nasa, who refused to agree on joint nominations, leading to divided votes.

In 2017, the different parties under Nasa fielded candidates in Lang’ata constituency, a development believed to have given Mr Nixon Korir a huge advantage over his rivals.

Ms Judith Achieng of Wiper garnered 5,292 votes, ODM had 39,593 while Amani National Congress (ANC) and Ford Kenya had 1,274 and 349 respectively.

In the current National Assembly and Senate, the Orange party boasts of almost 100 members.

It has around 15 governors, a figure that might be reduced by the Azimio affiliate parties.

Prof Macharia Munene, a university don in Nairobi, argues that a big turnout which Mr Odinga intends to get from the Azimio La Umoja parties, will be an advantage though it may also come with losing seats due to the outfits fielding candidates.

He adds that such a situation would mean Mr Odinga works extra hard as a president.

“It depends on how strong he will be as president in persuading lawmakers to go along with his policies. The methods of persuasion are not an issue,” Prof Munene told the Sunday Nation.

For political commentator Martin Andati, however, it is not a case of a double-edged sword.

He compares the Azimio La Umoja predicament to a polygamous family “where the interests of every group are catered for on a case-by-case basis”.

Focusing on the presidency

According to Mr Andati, the ODM leader would require “Solomonic” wisdom to hold the Azimio La Umoja coalition intact.

“Raila has to carefully manage the various interests and egos while focusing on the presidency,” Mr Andati said.

With Azimio parties rejecting the zoning proposal, the risk of losing seats are high.

In the Kisii governor race, ODM, Democratic Alliance Party of Kenya (DAP-K) and Jubilee are to field candidates – yet the three are Azimio affiliate. It could work in favour of Dr Ruto’s UDA.

“We are in Azimio, which has many parties. You will have a free hand to choose leaders from the parties,” Mr Odinga said in Wajir County recently.

But yesterday, Laikipia Governor Ndiritu Muriithi who also chairs Mr Odinga’s campaign board, said there are four options that can ensure Azimion loses no seat – consensus, negotiations, polls and universal suffrage (joint nominations).

“We can use consensus to avoid conflict. We can also use data. If you are polling at 2.5 per cent and your rival is at 45 per cent, that tells you that the latter is the stronger candidate,” Governor Muriithi said.

“There can also be negotiations and nominations where voters are allowed to choose. The law says nomination is by party members. After tomorrow (Saturday), the Registrar of Political Parties will give a certified roll of party members. It is not a guess work. If we go for a joint nomination, only members of a party will take part.”

Lugari MP and DAP-K Deputy Leader Ayub Savula says since focus is to deliver votes for presidency, the Azimion outfits are not ready for zoning.

He says the alliance may disintegrate if leaders insist on the plan.

“Let every party field its candidates. We do not want a situation in which UDA benefits from the Azimio zoning fallout,” Mr Savula said, adding that voters need to decide the fate of contenders.

A similar scenario is likely to play out in Nairobi in the event of consensus not being reached between ODM’s Tim Wanyonyi, Richard Ngatia and Agnes Kagure in the governor race.

Former Kakamega Senator Boni Khalwale, who bowed out of the governor race in favour of his successor Cleophas Malala, gives ANC an upper hand in the county boss contest.

ODM and DAP-K intend to field candidates to succeed Kakamega Governor Wycliffe Oparanya who was elected on ODM ticket in 2017.

The complicated situation has made seasoned politicians devise survival tactics against ingeniously formidable foes.

In some parts of Kenya where victory in the primaries almost guarantees success in the general election, the anticipated showdown has raised temperatures.

For fear of being rigged out, some politicians are planning to skip the primaries by joining fringe parties affiliated to the coalitions they support.

Kajiado Governor Joseph ole Lenku ditched Jubilee to join ODM on Thursday just weeks after his predecessor David Nkedianye decamped from the Orange party to Jubilee.

“While listening to the country, we involved elders from Samburu, Laikipia, Nakuru, Narok and Kajiado counties who said the ground is ODM,” Mr Lenku said.

The two are expected to fight it out for the Azimio votes in Kajiado County.

Affiliate parties

Whoever among UDA hopefuls – Katoo ole Metito, Francis Meja and Peris Tobiko – wins the ticket could benefit from the Azimio fallout.

Aware of the risk of allowing affiliate parties to field candidates, President Kenyatta’s Jubilee has started reaching out to the heads of the parties.

Mt Kenya leaders allied to Mr Kenyatta and who had pulled out of the ruling outfit are among those being asked to abandon their parties and help rejuvenate Jubilee.

They include Nakuru Governor Lee Kinyanjui of Ubuntu People’s Forum and Mr Muriithi of the Party of National Unity (PNU).

Jubilee Director of Elections Kanini Kega yesterday told the Sunday Nation that individual interests would not be allowed to cripple Azimio ambitions.

He admitted that in areas like Nairobi, Azimio would be made to field one candidate for every seat.

“We will agree on the candidates so as not to split our votes. There is no doubt that we will have single candidates in Nairobi. In areas with few or no risks, we will allow Azimio affiliate parties to field candidates,” the Kieni MP said.

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