The Grand March: Raila Odinga hits the road

This Sunday Raila Odinga launches what promises to be the most electrifying campaign since 1992 Kenneth Matiba’s “Earthquake”.

Sunday is Raila Odinga’s big day. It is the day he formally launches his 2007 presidential campaign.

And typical of Raila, the launch will be in style – with pomp and colour characteristic of the man. Two media organizations have already been contacted to beam the launch live on television!

Invitations to the ceremony to be at the Kenyatta International Conference Centre have been sent out to everybody who is somebody in Nairobi. Even President Kibaki and First lady Lucy have been sent an invitation! So is retired President Moi.

One message coming from Raila’s grand launch is that he has his mind set on the presidency and nothing is about to stop. Not even the much anticipated ODM presidential nominations. For starters, Raila has made it clear that Sunday function is not a launch for his ODM nomination bid but one for the national presidential contest scheduled for December. Indeed, the invitations to president Kibaki and his predecessor Moi tell as much. That as far as Raila is concerned; he is playing the big league.

Analysts are reading three things in Raila’s grand launch. One, that as far as he is concerned, ODM nominations count for nothing. It is either that ODM pick him as its candidate or he will go it alone all the same. Going by the kind of resources he is investing in his campaign, it is a foregone conclusion that the man is going for it one way or the other.

So why would Raila take such an unilateral move knowing very well that should ODM fail to pick a single candidate to face the incumbent, the party may well have handed victory to Kibaki without him having to drop a sweat?

One explanation is that Raila is putting all his bets on the proposed 50% plus one rule. In that case, a free-for-all contest would serve him right since it would deny the incumbent the required threshold and force a re-run.

In such an eventuality, a strong bid by Raila would serve to place him at a vantage point and most likely emerge as the runner up to the incumbent and hence the man to face in a re-run. That way, Raila would be the single opposition presidential contender without going through the hassles of a party nomination process.

If that is the thinking in the Raila campaign, then there is a triple down-side to it. One, there is no guarantee that the minimum reform package will include the 50% plus one rule. As of now, proponents of the rule have not demonstrated that they have enough numbers to force it through parliament or have enough muscle to arm twist the government to pass it in the style of 1997 IPPG package.

Secondly, in the event of a run-off with the incumbent, there is no guarantee that all ODM presidential hopefuls would rally behind Raila. Should they perceive that he deliberately sabotaged ODM presidential nominations with such a plot in mind, they may as well decide to punish him by throwing their lot with the incumbent. Indeed, it only requires just one of the ODM top contenders to back the incumbent in a run-off and the latter would smile all the way to State House.

The third risk to it is that in the event ODM fails to pick a single presidential candidate and the December contest ends up a free-for-all, angry opposition supporters may decide to avenge the let-down by ODM and vent their wrath by voting for the incumbent or staying home altogether to give the incumbent a walk-over.

If Raila is not putting too much hope on enactment of the 50% plus one rule, the second explanation, analysts believe, is that in hitting the road with pomp, he is aiming at eclipsing everyone else in ODM, a factor that would give him a head start when it ocmes to the nominations.

In the event Raila would either be the man to beat within ODM. Alternatively, it would give him great leverage with whoever the party picks as its candidate.

Already, the thinking in Raila camp is that except for Kalonzo Musyoka, the rest of the ODM lot have no scruples about leaving it to Raila as long as they are adequately rewarded for the gesture.

Indeed, opinion on the ground is still strong that besides Kalonzo and Uhuru Kenyatta, the rest of the ODM presidential candidates are actually Raila’s ‘projects” and would play ball on the day of reckoning.

That also tallies well with thinking in Raila circles that Kalonzo can be ignored because all he can bring on the table is the Kamba.

In the same vein, Raila strategists view Uhuru’s candidacy as of no consequence as long as president Kibaki is in the race, what he once characterized as mere ‘sentimental value in the ODM calculus.

The down side to that kind of strategy is that so far there are no constitutional offices that Raila can dish out to the rest of the ODM key luminaries as an inducement to have them in his camp. And going by Narc’s flopped experiment on pre-election power sharing. Perhaps no ODM presidential hopeful will be too enthusiastic to hedge his bet on a promise which is for now just wishful thinking.

Granted that constitutional offices like the office of a prime minister and more than one vice president may require a majority vote in parliament, the government side would certainly sabotage their creation just to frustrate the ODM.

But being the pragmatic politician he is , analysts have a their explanation and believe Raila could be thinking outside the ODM toolbox altogether.

Could there be a possibility that he is positioning himself as the single biggest (threat to president Kibaki bid for a second term to goad the latter to negotiate as an accommodation.

As of now, one thing is clear. Raila is set to electrify this year’s campaign scene in manner last seen in a manner last seen in 1992 when Kenneth Matiba took the country by storm. Certainly, none of the other presidential contestants, including the incumbent, can beat Raila in election campaign planning. Whether that translates into votes is another matter altogether.

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