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Credible primaries not optional in ODM

By Dr. Vincent O. Ngore

ODM has repeatedly cried foul in the last three consecutive presidential elections. Kenyans understand the eyesore of electoral malpractices pretty well. It need not be overemphasised.

Pundits have argued that the only reason Kenyan presidential elections have been easy to manipulate is the fact that the first two contenders are usually so close to each other that a slight mischief tilts the balance. I agree. In 2002, Mwai Kibaki was too far ahead of Uhuru Kenyatta such that even if Moi had wanted to rig the vote in favor of the latter, it would have been embarrassingly obvious to Kenyans and the international community.

Subsequent elections have been closely contested, making them succulent fodder for electoral malpractices. ODM has always controlled more than half the country in the last 16 years since its inception in 2005. However, the party’s grip on its traditional strongholds appears to be weakening with each passing election cycle. The culprit in the party’s dwindling fortunes is poor party primaries. Two factors have led to bangled primaries in ODM. First is lack of adequate resources to undertake nation-wide primaries. Second is the existence of preferred candidates. The consequence of bangled primaries is loss of confidence in the party, leading to poor voter turn-out at elections. Poor voter turnout, in itself, compromises the competitive ability of the party’s candidates against other parties. As far as the presidential elections are concerned, low voter turnout has consistently undermined Raila’s competitiveness.

Bluntly put, Raila starts on a weak footing occasioned by voter apathy, and has had to work twice as hard to get what his main challengers get effortlessly. The ODM can therefore, be said to have inadvertently perpetuated electoral rigging against its own candidates, including Raila. We have been told that Raila will be in the ring one more time come 2022. Raila himself has not been forthcoming with information regarding his candidature for next year’s elections. Should he elect to present himself to the Kenyan electorate one more time, it will behoove his party to marshal all its members behind their presidential candidate. I doubt if a party that routinely bungles party nominations can achieve goal congruence.

This is not the time for conflicts in the party. Conflicts have the potential to derail a party, and grossly compromise its ambitions. If I were a member of ODM, I would urge the party functionaries to be very careful about its primaries. Already there are senior members of the party who are peddling rumours that the party leader has promised them party tickets or advised them to support particular candidates for various electoral positions in 2022. I am reliably informed that some senior party members are going round poisoning the electorate against some candidates who are being stigmatised as moles. To make it worse, they are swearing with the name of the party leader that some moles have been planted to win party nominations then defect to other parties. We have had enough of this hogwash over the years.

These types of statements are careless, and work against the party and its presidential flag bearer. They are usually spread by non-performing senior party members who fear that the newcomers might oust them from their positions at the polls. So, they walk around using Raila’s name to intimidate opponents, and hoodwink the electorate. The ultimate loser is the voter who misses out on crucial public services as elected leaders abdicate their responsibilities, and instead hung on Raila’s coat for continued political relavance. Raila is on record as promising party members that, going forward, elections will be free, fair, transparent, democratic and credible. This statement by Raila has given members a sigh of relief. Fraudulent party primaries have been a thorn in the flesh of the party and its membership.

But when power barons within the party go around their constituencies and counties threatening potential candidates with rigging, then they make Raila look like a big liar whose personal interest in specific candidates supersedes the need for service delivery to the electorate. This is not a very admirable reputation for a person who aspires to be president of the country. The result of the careless talk by poor performers who fear losing to newcomers is that those who are threatened with rigging will move with their supporters to more accommodative parties or simply become indifferent to party affairs.

Many of the current Governors and other senior leaders in ODM dominated areas are said to have benefitted from handpicking by the party leader. This may or may not be true, but the perception is that the party leader has the final say regarding who gets elected. Consequently, the electorate have been disenfranchised. In such circumstances, the electorate lack the locus standi and wherewithal to question their leaders on performance of their mandate . After all, they didn’t vote for them. At the same time, leaders feel no obligation towards the electorate. They serve at the behest of, and are directly beholden to, the party leader. Nobody else matters. Oversight of leaders’ performance becomes a huge challenge.

Accountability is more or less non-existent. Performance is poor. Service delivery to citizens is way below expectation. The electorate are reduced to mere pawns in the political chessboard. Let ODM allow candidates to share their manifestos and visions so that the electorate can make informed choices. If the adage of old dog and slow take up of old tricks persists in ODM, then they will have nobody but themselves to blame for the imminent poor show at the 2022 polls.

Many people will be questioning how Raila intends to govern the entire country if he cannot reign in the arrogant party stalwarts who think that they are above competition. The signs and rumours emanating from some quarters of the party are not very encouraging. It’s in the interest of the party to hold credible primaries. Anything less will certainly have disastrous consequences. As the English would say in such circumstances, to be forewarned is to be forearmed.

The Lecturer is a Senior Lecturer Technical university of Kenya and an expert in tax and governance

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