An imminent 3-way split in ODM?

After months of papering over their differences and living in denial that the possibility of a break up of the Orange democratic Movement (ODM) was very real, the events of the last one week appear to suggest the hour of reckoning may as well be nigh.

Whereas ODM top leadership has in the past strenuously tried to avoid public utterances that may have betrayed the deep rivalry and suspicion between them, this week they found themselves breaking the unwritten rule of see, hear or talk no evil. In effect, they appeared to confirm what many had feared and others secretly hoped for; that the question of ODM’s disintegration might no longer be one of if but when.

The situation was not helped much by the Magarini by-election where the ODM candidate, Amason Kingi was shaven clean by the government backed candidate, Harrison Kombe. The later scooped over 5,000 votes, more than twice the figure garnered by the ODM rival. ODM insiders were quick to blame the Magarini debacle on the rivalry amongst the party’s presidential hopefuls.

As for the fireworks that exposed the ODM soft under-belly, Raila Odinga was the first on the shooting range.

Quickly on the heels of the mega show that was the launch of his presidential campaign, he hopped to Kisii mid last week form where he categorically stated that this year’s contest will be a two-horse race between himself and President Kibaki. In characteristic, dismissive style, he categorized other presidential aspirants in ODM as just “mere passengers”.

Kalonzo Musyoka hit back with a s much undisguised venom two days later. While collecting forms for the ODM nomination, The Mwingi North MP did not name Raila publicly but he left no doubt whom he had in mind when he lampooned presidential aspirants who have “been bragging they already have scooped ODM nomination when the same is yet to be held.” His caution to voters: “Just ignore such fellows.” There was no mistaking to whom the jab was aimed.

William Ruto was equally assertive. In a show of strength over the weekend, he herded at least 14 MPs from his native Rift Valley province for a meeting in Kuresoi. There they “exposed” a plot by an unnamed ODM presidential hopeful to isolate some aspirants and “hoodwink a few soft ones into endorsing him as the ODM flag bearer.” Speakers at the meeting dubbed Kuresoi Declaration described the unnamed ODM apirants as the “cunning Fox of Kenya politics.”

And although they did not name the “cunning fox” and the so called “soft” candidates he intended to hoodwink into backing his sole candidacy in ODM, they made it clear Ruto was not one of them.

They described Ruto as “our hero in Rift Valley” and they vowed to back his candidacy to the last man to ensure he takes over from president Kibaki come next year.

But the most telling sign that all is not well in the Orange party was when, early in the week, straight shooting J.J. Kamotho, a hitherto diehard ODM supporter, dismissed ODM as a “tribal party that is headed nowhere.”

In one of those surprises you only hear in politics, Kamotho asked his Mathioya constituents to vote for president Kibaki come the election as “there was no light at the end of the ODM tunnel.”

So what could have gone wrong in ODM hardly 18 months after the party handed the government a decisive defeat in the November 2005 referendum vote?

Many political analysts attribute the sudden change of ODM fortunes to the fact that all along the party’s unity has been anchored on issues which normally have no bearing on a presidential contest where candidates and how the electorate perceives them, and not issues, are crucial in influencing the pattern of voting.

The first unifying factor in ODM – indeed the event that gave birth to the name ODM in the first place-was the 2005 referendum vote. The vote was a simple matter of saying Yes or No to the draft constitution.

When the government threw its lot behind the draft constitution, the referendum easy choice of Yes or No gave all those who had an axe to grind a golden opportunity to gang up and humiliate the government.

Thus the ODM vote against the draft constitution was not necessarily a vote against the draft per se but one against the government. The different partners in ODM-Kanu and LDP and a sizeable section of the civil society-had different reasons to want to humiliate the government. The LDP brigade’s beef was the disputed pre-2002 election MoU with its Narc partner and the wing in power, NAK.

For Kanu, which had been routed from power in the 2002 election after an uninterrupted 40-year rule, the referendum vote was payback time.

After the referendum, ODM’s lifeline came via one-off issues, often handed to it by the government’s public relations bungling that would from time to time give the party a reason for a unity of purpose to humiliate the government.

First came the Githongo dossier on ubiquitous Anglo Leasing scam which early last year somehow gave ODM a reason to regroup. But after some excitement, the issue quietly faded to leave ODM with nothing tangible to coalesce around.

Then came the Artur bothers saga and ODM once again found some relevance and a unity of purpose to harangue the government. That too, did not last long enough.

Yet another issue for ODM to show its teeth referendum-style came in July last year when five by-elections were simultaneously held after a plane crash killed five MPs in Marsabit. ODM squandered the opportunity, however, when partners LDP and Kanu decided to go separate ways allowing rival Narc-Kenya to scoop three out of five seats up for grabs.

All along the real test has been dependent on whether ODM would remain united long enough to offer a single candidate to face the incumbent Mwai Kibaki.

And this really where the point of departure lies vis a vis the 2005 referendum. Whereas the latter was a simple question of Yes or No to a document, the issue of a presidential contest touches on personal ambition, bloc-vote interests and a host of other vested interests. These are certainly difficult issues to reconcile, more so in a polarized nation as Kenya today.

Going by the events of the past one week, and though the die has not been cast yet, it appears certain there will be a three-way split in ODM.

The kind of resources, time and energy Raila is putting to his presidential campaign is such that it is difficult to imagine that he intends to step down for anybody else in ODM. To put it bluntly, it is not likely that Raila will agree to any nomination formula in ODM that will favour any other candidate but himself. Already, there are bitter murmurs that the ODM secretariat is packed with Raila cronies whose mandate is to make sure he goes through, by hook or crook.

Neither are there indications that Kalonzo Musyoka intends to cede ground. He intimated by the condition he gave last week that he won’t hand back his nomination application forms until he is convinced ODM has a neutral election board that he is spoiling for a nasty encounter.

So is William Ruto if the weekend Kuresoi Declaration is an indicator of the direction he will be taking his campaign for ODM nomination.

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