Raila foes lick wounds after by-election losses

Opponents of Prime Minister Raila Odinga are now engaged in a blame game after losing two constituencies where by-elections were held in the past week. Raila now feels vindicated in his earlier claims that he can ignore disgruntled legislators and work directly with voters.

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Raila was in an ecstatic mood over the weekend after his ODM party won the Bomachoge and Shinyalu by-elections. The victory came despite intensive campaigning by Raila’s opponents, many of whom are in the same ODM party as Raila. In a political scenario that can only happen in Kenya, ODM officials were campaigning for rival parties in a bid to prove who is bigger or more influential in ODM.

It goes without saying that Agriculture Minister William Ruto, who of late does not see eye-to-eye with Raila, was secretly hoping that the official ODM candidates would fail. Several other ODM legislators who have fallen out with Raila openly campaigned for candidates running on other political parties. These include Omingo Magara, Isaac Ruto and Joshua Kutuny.

In Western Province, the Kenyan African Democratic Development Union (KADDU) of Cyrus Jirongo suffered a crushing defeat at the hands of the ODM candidate. So resounding was ODM’s victory in Shinyalu that Jirongo admitted that his campaign machinery made fatal mistakes that cost his party victory. Jirongo told Citizen Radio that the KADDU candidate, Daniel Khamasi, was not a favourite among youthful voters. Khamasi is a former area MP.

President Mwai Kibaki’s PNU party was so hopelessly disjointed that its presence was hardly felt during campaigns. Appearances by Vice President Kalonzo Musyoka and party leader George Saitoti could not salvage the situation. PNU’s campaign was riddled by wrangling and a total lack of co-ordination. Party members are beginning to question the leadership credentials of Saitoti, who is planning to vie for Kenya’s presidency in 2012.

Still in Western Province, Deputy Prime Minister Musalia Mudavadi was also ecstatic after ODM’s victory in Shinyalu. This was because the by-elections had been billed as a battle between Mudavadi and Jirongo. Both men are vying for the political control of Western Province. While Mudavadi was born into luxury in the family of the late Moses Mudavadi, Jirongo is largely a self made man who rose to prominence as the head of a KANU campaign outfit in 1992. Jirongo was spotted by former President Daniel arap Moi and appointed to head the Youth for KANU 92 with William Ruto as his deputy. Youth for KANU 92 had access to unlimited cash whose source remains a mystery.

Over the past decade, Jirongo has tried to become political pointman for the Luhya tribe that dominates Western Province. The role of community spokesman was previously played by the late Moses Mudavadi (Musalia’s father) then the late Masinde Muliro and late Michael Kijana Wamalwa. Jirongo is highly contemptuous of Mudavadi who is regarded as a reluctant politician waiting to be given power on a silver platter. Jirongo feels that he has worked hard to get where he is and sees Mudavadi as a spoilt brat unworthy of leadership. This explains why Jirongo is so eager to prove that he can influence voting patterns in Western at the expense of Mudavadi. However, Jirongo’s backing in Shinyalu for former legislator Daniel Khamasi was, by his own admission, a mistake.

That is not to say that the ODM candidate and Mudavadi were exceptionally popular with voters. Shinyalu voted overwhelmingly for ODM and Raila in 2007 and the by-election victory could simply have been a continuation of the trend. Any other person running on the ODM platform had a good chance of winning the seat.

In Bomachoge, voters may have wanted to vote ODM as a means of rectifying what they see as a mistake they made in 2007. The larger Kisii region was perhaps the only part of Kenya where almost all major political parties fared well. The Kisii were split between supporting Kibaki and Raila. After the elections, the Kisii people were violently attacked by their Luo and Kalenjin neighbours for not supporting Raila. This time, the Kisii were eager to show solidarity with their ethnic neighbours by electing an ODM, pro-Raila candidate.

With the by-elections now a closed chapter, the rival camps in ODM are assessing the lessons from that experience and gearing up for the next battle. Raila is unlikely to change his mode of operation and will want to continue working directly with voters. He sees the by-election victory as proof that he and ODM remain popular at the grassroots. The likes of William Ruto, Cyrus Jirongo, Omingo Magara and Joshua Kutuny will also be analyzing their actions. They should learn to present a more united front in future and to choose a viable candidate capable of connecting with voters.

In coming days, Parliament will begin debate on the enactment of a Special Tribunal to prosecute persons responsible for post election violence in 2008. This is likely to be the next phase of the war between Raila and his opponents. It promises to be a brutal showdown where those working against Raila will be eager to make up for their losses in the Bomachoge and Shinyalu by elections. Jirongo has said that he will work to ensure that the Special Tribunal bill flops. “The perpetrators of post election violence must be taken to The Hague,” says Jirongo.

As political contests continue, issues affecting the day-to-day lives of Kenyans have been shunted to the periphery.

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