Coalition for Reforms and Democracy (CORD) leader Raila Odinga will not run for the Homa Bay Senate seat for fear this would split the Opposition and set the stage for claims by rivals that he has stooped too low and is a diminishing political asset. Raila, who had been touted to capture the seat easily, yesterday defied the pressure from some Luo Nyanza MPs and elders who wanted him to succeed his fallen ally Otieno Kajwang’. The former Prime Minister, who was yet to respond to the request to return to elective office through the by-election in Homa Bay County, convened a press conference yesterday evening to announce his decision.
This came only a day after hosting elders and local leaders from the county at his home in Bondo constituency, where the idea that he should run was firmed up. Sources revealed that Raila, who on Sunday had been given three days to make a decision, hastily opted to make the announcement a day earlier due to pressure from majority of his supporters across the country. The CORD leader’s candidature could have troubled the coalition given his co-principal Kalonzo Musyoka had also faced a similar situation over Makueni County Senate by-election after the death of Mutula Kilonzo, but declined overtures to run.
Raila’s presence in the Senate could have complicated matters for Senate Minority Leader Moses Wetang’ula, who is a co-principal, since agitation would have followed that the Ford Kenya leader gives up the House post to Raila in consideration of the fact he leads the biggest party in the coalition and political clout too, especially as a former PM and President Uhuru Kenyatta’s key rival.
Even if Raila would not have sought to dethrone Wetang’ula as minority leader, his presence alone may have overshadowed the Bungoma Senator in the House, and therefore create rivalry, strategists said. Raila had met a group of MPs from CORD and other political advisors at the Jaramogi Odinga Centre and made phone calls to other key strategists who reportedly advised him to avoid running for the Senate seat. Majority of his supporters concurred that seeking to vie for the Senate seat would dent his image as a national leader and portray him as a power-hungry person who would be willing to risk his reputation by running for a lower seat only to be in Parliament.
This would also have distracted him from concentrating on rebuilding the opposition party and coalition ahead of the 2017 General Election, some of his supporters especially on online sites argued. Besides the plan to have Raila join the Senate unsettling the opposition coalition, contesting would have been seen as stifling democracy within ODM. This is because Raila, who comes from Siaya, would have denied candidates from Homa Bay the chance to contest the seat on an equal platform given his clout in the region and the party of choice in the county.
And there was mounting rebellion to his proposed candidature from those eyeing the seat. A group of elders convened a meeting at a Homa Bay Hotel to strategise on the action they would take if Raila decided to contest. In the Sunday meeting led by Homa Bay Luo Council of Elders Chairman Nyandiko Ongadi, the elders opposed Raila’s candidature. Interestingly, they rejected his candidature on a day Raila hosted a group of elders and politicians led by Homa Bay Governor Cyprian Awiti and ODM Chairman John Mbadi at his home in Bondo, Siaya County, to request him to vie for the seat. Another reason likely to have influenced the decision is that there were indications the Jubilee coalition would relish his entry particularly for the conflict it was expected to trigger in the opposition.
Opponents were also eager to brand him an opportunist eager to seize on every opportunity, and force others to sacrifice their ambitions for his sake. At the press conference, Raila acknowledged that the task of sustaining the momentum of change in the party and guiding the new leadership requires full attention of the party leader and the entire team. “I will, therefore, have to let down the elders of Homa Bay and the MPs who showed faith in me for the Senate seat. Please allow me to concentrate, on your behalf, on creating a party machine and a coalition partnership that can keep the Government in check and advocate and promote the provision of services to the Kenyan people and that can eventually take over power in two years. This allows me to focus on the big picture for our party, coalition and country,” he said.
Raila was accompanied by Senators James Orengo, Anyang’ Nyong’o, Nairobi Governor Evans Kidero and four ODM MPs: Junet Mohamed, Tom Kajwang’, Fred Outa and Oburu Odinga. Raila told his party’s national election board to hasten the process of nominating the candidate. Four aspirants; Silas Jakakimba, Moses Kajwang’, Fred Rabongo and Philip Onkundi, who were with the ODM leader, vowed to support the one who delegates will pick. “I am tasking our new party executive to immediately embark on identifying a suitable candidate to carry the party’s flag in the February 2015 by-election. We need a process that is inclusive, peaceful and respectful of the ideals and stature of the late Kajwang’, in line with our party constitution,” Raila said. Raila’s candidature, it was said, had thrown strategies of some candidates into disarray.
Jakakimba, who served as Raila’s personal assistant from 2006 to March last year, breathed a sigh of relief when Raila declined to contest, while his rivals Okundi, Kajwang’ and Rabongo termed the announcement as the wisest decision.
ODM MPs Omondi Anyanga (Nyakach), Peter Kaluma (Homa Bay Town), James Rege (Rachuonyo), Johnson Naicca (Mumias West), Shakeel Shabbir (Kisumu Town East) and Nicholas Gumbo (Rarieda) were among the MPs who last week urged Raila to consider contesting.
Meanwhile, Raila yesterday vowed to block the appointment of Kajiado Central MP Joseph Nkaissery to the Cabinet, terming his nomination illegal. “This is illegal and as a party we are going to pursue it further. You cannot pick an opposition member and appoint him to Cabinet,” he charged. During the Rainbow Coalition regime, President Uhuru Kenyatta protested when then President Mwai Kibaki appointed kanu members to the Cabinet.