What you need to know:
- Senior ODM politicians including Nairobi Governor Evans Kidero, Siaya Senator James Orengo and MPs Dalmas Otieno (Rongo) and John Mbadi (Gwassi) have pulled out of the race for the various party positions
- In a conversation with Sunday Nation at his Bondo home on Friday morning, Mr Odinga said while the politicians were free to run, he was angered by demands that certain posts be reserved for Luo Nyanza
- Mr Mbadi and Mr Otieno had expressed interest in the post of secretary-general held by Kisumu Senator Anyang Nyong’o, while Dr Kidero wanted to be vice-chairman. There were reports that Mr Orengo was interested in the secretary-general’s position, but he later said he has no intentions to vie for the seat
- Mr Odinga declined to comment on whether he is preparing ODM for his next stab at the presidency
Cord leader Raila Odinga said he is not threatened by the decision of Luo Nyanza politicians to pull out of the February 28 ODM elections, which has triggered speculation that they could be headed for another political party.
The former prime minister said the MPs approached him seeking endorsement, but he declined and advised them to face the delegates during the Orange Democratic Movement elections.
Senior ODM politicians including Nairobi Governor Evans Kidero, Siaya Senator James Orengo and MPs Dalmas Otieno (Rongo) and John Mbadi (Gwassi) have pulled out of the race for the various party positions.
Mr Otieno on Friday claimed he was forced out of the contest and pointed an accusing finger at Mr Odinga.
The pull out came after Mr Odinga strongly reprimanded Luo politicians who were demanding that the position of secretary-general be reserved for their region, which is one of the party’s strongholds.
The withdrawal has been interpreted as a rebellion against Mr Odinga who has been accused of coercing Luo politicians to pull out of the contest to create room for his favoured candidates.
Concerns have also been raised by a section of party members that the ODM party leader could be isolating himself from key party stalwarts, a move that could weaken the movement fighting to regain its footing after the bruising General Election last March.
A few weeks ago, rumours went round that Orange House had a preferred line up for the next party leaders. But the party hierarchy denied the authenticity of the list that was being circulated.
In a conversation with Sunday Nation at his Bondo home on Friday morning, Mr Odinga said while the politicians were free to run, he was angered by demands that certain posts be reserved for Luo Nyanza.
“Some of them approached me seeking support to contest various seats. I told them that as a party leader I had a responsibility to ensure a fair playing ground for all. My standard answer to all of them was that they should apply and seek the support of members,” he said during the breakfast interview.
“I was uncomfortable by the impression they were creating that they are first class members of the party and the others are second class,” Mr Odinga said.
His concern, he told Sunday Nation, was that the call could scare party supporters from other sections of the country and reduce ODM to a “Luo party”.
“ODM is a national mass movement. What would be the reaction of regions such as Western, Teso, Coast, Kisii, Samburu, Maasai and Turkana which show a lot of emotional support for the party?”
He added: “As a party leader I had a duty to set the record straight and confront the negative propaganda by saying that no post was a preserve of any region for that would be against the party constitution and would alienate other members of the party. It is better for them to understand that such stupid politics are against the interests of the party.”
Advising aggrieved MPs to channel their concerns through party organs, Mr Odinga said he is unperturbed by the heat that elections had generated and sounded confident that the movement will remain intact.
“We don’t feel threatened. What is going on is an exercise in democracy. People are weighing their options. ODM will emerge stronger from the elections,” he said.
Mr Mbadi and Mr Otieno had expressed interest in the post of secretary-general held by Kisumu Senator Anyang Nyong’o, while Dr Kidero wanted to be vice-chairman. There were reports that Mr Orengo was interested in the secretary-general’s position, but he later said he has no intentions to vie for the seat.
Mr Odinga said Dr Kidero had met him and offered to drop out of the contest, saying his hands were already full as governor of Nairobi.
“He had discussed the decision with me. We agreed that he continues to serve ODM from current post for it is a party position. He is an ODM governor who has a constitutional duty to serve both Jubilee and Cord supporters in the city.”
Those who had approached him for support include Mr Otieno, Budalang’i MP Ababu Namwamba, nominated senator Agnes Zani and Nicholas Gumbo (Rarieda) who are fighting to be secretary-general. Others are Dr Paul Otuoma and Homa Bay Senator Otieno Kajwang who are seeking to be chairman and vice-chairman respectively.
It is widely believed that Mr Odinga favours the Kwale-born Dr Zani for the post, a claim he denies.
But it is noteworthy that other members of the Odinga family such as nominated MP Oburu Oginga and Kisumu Deputy Governor Ruth Odinga have thrown their weight behind Dr Zani who will fight it out with Mr Namwamba in what is promising to be a bruising battle.
Mr Namwamba on Saturday vowed he would not quit the race in favour of anybody.
Governor Odinga accompanied Dr Zani to a funeral in Homa Bay on Sunday.
Mr Odinga described Mr Otieno’s comment as “totally untrue and irresponsible.” According to Mr Odinga the Rongo MP had approached him arguing that since the outgoing secretary-general comes from central Nyanza, it was the turn of south Nyanza to assume the post.
“I told him to see ODM as a national party. He wanted an endorsement, and I declined. He is a member of a group which has been making this embarrassing argument that both the head and heart of the party must remain in Luo Nyanza,” said Mr Odinga, who also indicated that Mr Otieno was not a candidate because he had not applied and paid the required fees.
According to the Cord leader, he had no authority to impose a leader on the party because he had no control over the delegates and party organs.
He asked those seeking positions in the party not to turn it into a “mini-General Election”.
Mr Odinga sounded supportive of a situation in which elected leaders let parties be run by officials who can dedicate most of their time and energies to the party. “Political parties are members’ clubs comprising individuals who share values and ideologies. An individual chooses to be party to it.”
He argued that in established parties such as the Democratic Party in the US and Labour in Britain, the election of members is largely driven by compromise, consensus, volunteerism and fair play to prevent attrition.
According to Mr Odinga, elected leaders should be comfortable with their current positions, which they should use as platforms to champion ODM interests.
The group of young Turks including Mr Ken Obura, Mr Mbadi, Mrs Millie Odhiambo (Mbita), and Augustino Neto (Ndhiwa) has been pushing for generational change in the party.
The elections have drawn a divide between them and the Odinga group which includes Mr Orengo, Prof Nyong’o, Mr Kajwang and Dr Oginga.
The Obura group blames the Orengo-Nyong’o axis for the party’s misfortunes, particularly its performance in elections.
Moderating a public lecture in commemoration of independence nationalist Jaramogi Oginga Odinga on Friday, Prof Nyong’o dismissed the young Turks saying they had no skills to lead a party.
Later the Sunday Nation learnt on Saturday that the youthful MPs have laid strategies to ensure none of those they are calling Mr Odinga’s preferred candidates sails through.
Mr Odinga dismissed calls for him to hand over the baton. “They never invited me. I am not immortal. I am there because the members are asking me to be there.”
He declined to comment on whether he is preparing ODM for his next stab at the presidency.
“Any political party exists with the aim of winning elections so that it can implement its agenda. A party without ambition has no reason to exist.”
He said his vision is to bequeath to future generations a strong party such as ANC in South Africa, Tanzania’s Chama Cha Mapinduzi and the Congress Party in India.
The Cord supremo advised party members to learn from past elections.
“Losing an election is not fatal in the life of a politician. It is like losing a battle in a war. You can lose many battles in a war but eventually win the war.”