Raila Odinga

Raila Odinga (centre), accompanied by other Azimio leaders, addresses journalists at the Stephen Kalonzo Musyoka Command Centre in Nairobi on September 15, 2023.

| Bonface Bogita | Nation Media Group

2027 polls: The secret push for Raila Odinga candidature and potential Azimio implosion

A secret push is gaining momentum in his Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) party circles to have Azimio leader Raila Odinga make his sixth attempt at the presidency in the 2027 elections.

This is even as the Wiper party led by former Vice-President Kalonzo Musyoka, Mr Odinga’s co-principal in the coalition, says it is focusing on his (Mr Kalonzo’s) candidacy in the same election.

Already, Mr Odinga’s running mate in last year’s election, Ms Martha Karua, has formed a movement within the Azimio la Umoja One Kenya coalition called Kamwene, which the Narc Kenya leader says is championing the interests of Mt Kenya, but is seen as her secret political vehicle focused on 2027.

Mr Odinga has publicly stated that he is not interested in retiring anytime soon, but his planning of most opposition events at the SKM (Stephen Kalonzo Musyoka) command centre, including the launch of the signature drive to illegitimise President William Ruto’s presidency in July and the unveiling of the government’s scorecard at the same venue on Saturday, had given Wiper supporters hope of a possible endorsement in the coming election.

However, the Nation has uncovered a secret plot, largely by politicians within Mr Odinga’s ODM party, to push for his sixth attempt at the top job.

Sources within the coalition hinted that even though Mr Odinga has shown no interest in running in 2027 and is currently only interested in “dealing” with the Ruto administration, he is under intense pressure from some of his allies not to shelve his dream of becoming the country’s leader.

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While some of the allies believe that President Ruto’s fiscal policies have worked against his presidency and that Mr Odinga could capitalise on this to gain power, the majority of those pushing for his candidacy may only be interested in riding on his coattails to win their seats. They are not doing this for Mr Odinga, but largely for their own interests.

There are also concerns within the ODM party that Mr Odinga’s failure to contest for the top seat would have a negative impact on his ODM party in terms of the financial resources it generates, the attractiveness of its tickets in the run-up to the polls and the political bargain.

There is a general feeling that with Mr Odinga out of the 2027 equation, he is likely to lose his political capital and thus his political bargaining power may be limited.

However, Mr Odinga’s strategist and lawyer Paul Mwangi, without confirming or denying the former Prime Minister's possible candidacy, described it as an “extraneous agenda” by critics of their coalition.

“We in Azimio are not distracted by extraneous agendas set by those who want us to implode. We are very clear about what Kenyans want from us during the existential crisis the country is going through and we will not allow diversionary agendas to be set for us,” Mr Mwangi told the Nation on September 18.

Political analyst Dismas Mokua argues that the push for Mr Odinga to run for the presidency in 2027 is not a far-fetched idea by his ODM allies, especially those from his Luo Nyanza backyard, who want to ride on his influence to secure their seats.

“Luo Nyanza, for instance, forms the backbone of Mr Raila Odinga’s political infrastructure. The majority of his core base in Luo Nyanza are emotionally attached to Mr Odinga’s political interests and trajectory.”

“His word is as good as law, so aligning or associating with Mr Odinga significantly improves the likelihood of winning an electoral seat. A good word from Mr Odinga will secure the ODM ticket in parts of Luo Nyanza. Most ODM MPs want to be in this safe area. Mr Odinga’s presidential bid guarantees victory for most of his close associates and sycophants,” says Mr Mokua.

He says some ODM leaders are using Mr Odinga’s presidential bid to “immunise” themselves from political competition and would not hesitate to push him to run in 2027, even at the age of 82.

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Mr Mokua also believes that Mr Odinga will lose his political capital if he doesn’t run for political office.

“He has to keep running to stay relevant. Potential Raila orphans are afraid of being left in the political cold if Mr Odinga doesn’t run. They make him believe he can win and urge him to run not to win the presidential race but as a strategy to secure their seats.

“Most of the time, they are supporting Mr Odinga’s presidential bid out of selfish personal interests. That Mr Odinga wins is irrelevant to their strategy. That is why they are running away and leaving Mr Odinga alone to lick his wounds,” Mr Mokua added.

But ODM National Chairman John Mbadi says Mr Odinga’s 2027 bid is up to him and the people of Kenya, adding that the country’s Constitution also does not bar anyone from contesting the top seat more than five times as Mr Odinga has done.

“We have seen world leaders, some older than him, in power. As far as I’m concerned, we have won several times, but we have been denied victory. So as long as he is not president, there is nothing stopping him from contesting because if he is healthy and strong, he has the right to contest,” Mr Mbadi said.

Mr Mbadi noted that based on the ODM National Delegates Convention (NDC) held last year, Mr Odinga remains the sole ODM presidential candidate until another NDC is held to nominate another flagbearer.

“That is our position at the moment and it is not a crime that people are pushing for our leader to run for the presidency in order to secure their seats. I’m not one of those people, but there is nothing wrong with people being opportunistic because in politics, you really need a very strong coat to hang on to to survive and this is even replicated in UDA, Wiper, ANC, Ford Kenya and other parties,” the ODM leader added.

ODM National Treasurer Timothy Bosire insisted that Mr Odinga’s candidature was not negotiable, insisting that age was not a factor and that the ODM leader was strong, healthy and has immense support within the opposition ranks.

“Age is not a factor. The man is healthy and has what it takes to be president and we all understand the circumstances under which he failed to capture power,” Mr Bosire told the Nation.

On allegations that some opposition members were counting on Mr Odinga’s candidacy to win their own seats, Mr Bosire quipped: “This is politics and we can’t deny that there are opportunists.

“There are those who are pursuing their own interests and those who are fighting for the dreams of Kenyans,” he added.

Vihiga Senator Godfrey Osotsi says Azimio has a lot to do in the interest of Kenyans and that talk of 2027 is a distraction and very premature.

“We are focused on building a strong national movement to give hope to Kenyans at this point in time when the ruling regime has failed them. We know that they want to ignite the debate about our flag-bearer in the hope that it will divide us. We will not give them that advantage, but I can say that this is our deadly weapon that we will unleash at the right time,” Mr Osotsi told Nation.

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He, however, dismisses as mere propaganda claims that some ODM politicians are pushing for Mr Odinga’s candidature simply to secure their own political seats.

“This is a misplaced thought and a propaganda narrative that seeks to diminish Raila Odinga’s unrivalled support across the country. Raila’s support is based on what he stands for and what he has done for this country. He is not supported because he is a presidential candidate.”

“His influence is greater than being a presidential candidate. That can be confirmed by the 2002 elections where he wasn’t a candidate, but played a big role in getting (Mwai) Kibaki elected,” the Vihiga senator said.

“If he chooses to contest again, he will have the usual huge support, if he chooses to support someone else, he will also have a big say. We refuse to be drawn into the premature debate of a possible Raila candidate because it is immaterial, the bottom line is that he is the giant political factor in this country and the failed regime of Kenya Kwanza must be worried.”

ODM Political Affairs Director and National Assembly Minority Leader Opiyo Wandayi said 2027 was too far to be discussed by the party's rank and file.

“Any talk about it is therefore premature. Some of us see Baba as a revolutionary. In a real sense, revolutionaries never retire,” the Ugunja MP said.

Saboti MP Caleb Amisi and his Embakasi East counterpart Babu Owino said Mr Odinga still had the right to contest for the top seat.

“The choice of whether he runs or not is purely up to Kenyans. You should ask how many Kenyans want Raila to run. If 60 per cent of Kenyans want him on the ballot, what are you going to do in a democratic country?” Mr Amisi said, adding that Mr Odinga’s identity and support base were not easily transferable.

On Mr Odinga’s possible candidacy, Mr Owino said: “It’s better to take five steps back and then six ahead, you still win in the end. Baba has a democratic right to contest.”

Makueni Senator Dan Maanzo, however, noted that only Mr Musyoka is better placed to beat President Ruto in 2027.

“We can have Kalonzo as the presidential candidate and still keep Karua as his running mate and possibly make Raila prime minister,” Mr Maanzo said.

Deputy Minority Leader and Kitui Senator Enoch Wambua said “Wiper is an integral, solid and firm partner in the (Azimio) coalition”.

“Our future plans as a party are clearly spelt out in our constitution. Wiper is ready to field a presidential candidate in the next elections and form a government in full solidarity with other coalition partners,” Mr Wambua told the Nation.