What you need to know:
- Although party leader Raila Odinga argues that ODM’s performance in the mini-polls cannot be used to gauge the party’s influence across the country, its misfortunes point to an outfit in decline mode.
- Mr Odinga’s party also failed to recapture Embakasi South parliamentary seat, which it held between 2013 and 2017 through Mr Irshad Sumra.
The Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) party is walking a tightrope ahead of the 2022 General Election, if its dismal performance in recent by-elections is anything to go by.
Although party leader Raila Odinga argues that ODM’s performance in the mini-polls cannot be used to gauge the party’s influence across the country, its misfortunes point to an outfit in decline mode.
Birthed in 2005 during a referendum won by the ‘No’ side (whose symbol was an orange while ‘Yes’ was a banana), the opposition party had a commanding majority in Parliament after the 2007 polls. ODM scooped 99 seats against incumbent President Mwai Kibaki’s Party of National Unity (PNU), which managed 43 out of 210 seats.
But since then, the party has continued to suffer from waning influence, struggling to retain seats in its former strongholds.
Apart from the just-concluded Msambweni by-election in which its candidate Omar Boga lost to independent Feisal Bader, the party also faced a resounding defeat in Mr Odinga’s Siaya backyard during the April 2019 Ugenya by-election.
In the mini-poll, Mr David Ochieng’, who vied on a Movement for Democracy and Growth (MDG) ticket, garnered 18,730 votes against Chris Karan of ODM who managed 14,507 votes.
Mr Odinga’s party also failed to recapture Embakasi South parliamentary seat, which it held between 2013 and 2017 through Mr Irshad Sumra.
Defected to Jubilee
In the by-election that followed a successful petition by Mr Sumra against Mr Julius Mawathe of Wiper party, the latter whitewashed ODM by garnering 21,628 votes against Mr Sumra’s 7,988 votes.
During the same period, ODM was also forced to pull out of the Wajir West by-election after area MP Ahmed Kolosh (ODM) defected to Jubilee Party and won.
Some party officials have pointed an accusing finger at the party’s Directorate of Elections and Campaigns headed by Suna East MP Junet Mohamed for the recent dismal performance.
Political analyst and governance expert Javas Bigambo says ODM fortunes have been dwindling.
“While Raila remains a charismatic leader and astute politician, he can no doubt accept the imminent decline of ODM’s grip. This means that, internally and externally, ODM has to reorganise itself to regain its mojo.
The reorganisation has to do with its leadership and change the brand of politics,” Mr Bigambo told Nation.
He lists “scare tactics, assumptions, abusive political language, focus issues, public consultation and grassroots planning” as issues ODM should ponder.
“The party must not depend on perceived euphoria and past glory. ODM remains a strong national party, but now evidence shows that it needs to move to the higher ground of public engagement and wit,” he added.
Political analyst Dismas Mokua says that, while by-elections are not useful barometers of national politics, they offer useful insights that can inform and influence national politics.
“It’s too early in the day to say ODM has lost glory. But it is on the path if Raila does not re-engineer the party so that members and voters have insurable interests.”
He says failure to give members insurable interests in the party will lead to disenfranchisement and subsequently “Raila fatigue”.
“Raila needs to attract and retain top talent with solid appreciation of voters’ selfish interests,” Mr Mokua adds.
ODM, he says, has been wounded at the by-elections due to failure to conduct solid party primaries as some second-term governors use the by-elections to grow their political capital ahead of 2022 polls.
In the Msambweni mini-poll, Kwale Governor Salim Mvurya moved to stamp his authority in the region’s politics by outwitting his two colleagues — Hassan Joho (Mombasa) and Amason Kingi (Kilifi) — who jointly campaigned for ODM’s Boga. Mr Mokua also cites the effects of ‘Handshake’ on the ODM’s predicament.
“The Handshake is having unintended consequences on the ODM brand. ODM is now suffering brand dilution by associating with Jubilee and therefore taking liability for Jubilee failures.”
He also mentions ODM’s internal wrangles where he notes that “everyone wants to associate with success but nobody wants to put in hard work.”
“ODM has also been relying on an indisciplined and cantankerous rank and file to run by-elections. Failure to embrace local structures, customs and knowledge when doing by-elections campaigns has also cost the party dearly,” Mr Mokua adds.
Mr Odinga, however, believes it is wrong for “somebody to generalise that ODM is losing ground.”
“Losing is the game of elections. You win some and lose some. This is not a litmus test for our countrywide support,” he said on Wednesday in a TV interview.
He said their rivals were free to interpret the outcome as they wish, adding that “it doesn’t mean they’ve made inroads” [in to their strongholds].
ODM chairman John Mbadi downplayed the Msambweni defeat, saying, voters decided to vote in Mr Feisal since he is a relative of Mr Dori.
“I don’t think the Coast people protested against ODM, we did not just organise ourselves well. It’s one thing to vote and another to actually get people out to vote for you,” Mr Mbadi told the Nation.
However, the Orange chairman said that, there is need for the party to get to the grassroots and do proper messaging to its supporters in order to maintain its support base.
“We have to be candid with each other and sell our agenda to the people,” Mr Mbadi told the Nation.
Additional reporting by Samwel Owino email@example.com firstname.lastname@example.org