New twist in ODM’s search for flag bearer

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AfricaPress-Kenya: Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) has hinted at the possibility of extending the application deadline for presidential candidates on the party ticket to accommodate locked-out aspirants, including party leader Raila Odinga.

ODM Director of Elections Junet Mohammed yesterday told The Standard that there were plans to convene the party’s National Executive Council (NEC) to make the final decision on the matter that has caused confusion among its supporters.

Junet said the party organ has powers to extend application deadline. Only governors Wycliffe Oparanya (Kakamega) and Hassan Joho (Mombasa) had applied by the March 31 deadline.

“The issue has caused a very big confusion within the party. The matter will be presented before NEC for discussion and review. The organ will give final and conclusive recommendation to guide the party moving forward,” said Junet, who also doubles as the National Assembly Minority Whip.

Junet’s comments seek to clear the air following last week’s shocking about-turn by the Secretary General Edwin Sifuna indicating that the announcement by the National Elections Board (NEB) that Raila had submitted his application was a prank on April 1 Fools Day.

The statement by Sifuna on April 2 even irritated party chairman John Mbadi who faulted him for usurping the powers of NEB.

Junet made the disclosure as the party’s NEB held a crisis meeting amidst the raging confusion over the former premier’s presidential bid, and the deafening silence from the party leadership following Sifuna’s statement.

Yesterday’s NEB meeting chaired by Catherine Mumma came barely a week after the party announced that Raila had not applied to fly the party ticket in the 2022 presidential contest by the set deadline.

This technically implied that he would be out of the 2022 presidential contest.

Raila has maintained that he would only talk about the 2022 presidential contest once the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) birthed through the Handshake between him and President Uhuru Kenyatta, which culminate into a referendum push, is dispensed with.

Ms Mumma yesterday remained tight-lipped after the mid-day meeting, stating that the outfit would communicate to the public at an appropriate time.

“We will issue the way forward when we are ready, please,” said Mumma.

The Central Management Committee chaired by Raila in January met and tasked the NEB to kick-start the recruitment process as part of the restructuring of the party.

The membership expressed concern that in 2017, the party delayed in naming its flag-bearer and therefore the process should start early to give members a clear direction as part of the rebranding ahead of the 2022 General Election.

Mumma team immediately placed adverts in the local dailies, giving the deadline for application as February 26, but this was extended to March 31 after it emerged that only John, who is also the deputy party leader, had applied.

Apart from the presidential ticket, the board is said to have discussed its planned grassroots elections that have since stalled due to the spike in Covid-19 infections.

A senior official at the party secretariat yesterday downplayed the agenda of the meeting, describing it as a normal engagement by the board in planning its activities.

“The board has just concluded its meeting. It was part of their normal and regular meetings to plan their calendar of activities. I know some people want to read much into it because of the issue surrounding the presidential ticket,” said the official.

Party supporters were last week thrown into confusion by a statement issued by Sifuna indicating that Raila had not applied for the party’s ticket.

Sifuna’s statement contradicted that of Mumma on April 1, indicating that three individuals, including Raila had declared interest to be the party’s torch bearer.

Sifuna said that Raila’s long-held position was that he will not discuss 2022 until after the BBI process is done.

The party had in February launched an aggressive membership drive in readiness for its planned grassroots elections that were to run from March to April in an exercise that was meant to fill vacant party positions.

The elections were to be followed by a National Delegates Conference (NDC) in Nairobi to pick the party’s presidential candidate.

In a previous interview with The Standard, Mumma said they had planned to vet applicants before convening the NDC by April to pick a candidate for the contest.

But a spike in Covid-19 infections and claims of a scheme to plant moles in the party ranks forced the party to suspend the exercise.

Early last month, Makadara MP and ODM party Nairobi branch chairman George Aladwa disclosed that the party had decided not to conduct party elections over claims that powerful individuals were planning to plant moles so as to frustrate Raila’s 2022 presidential bid.

Sources have, however, indicated that the confusion in the Orange party was deliberate and and meant to “manage the situation” and avoid a fallout in keeping with Raila’s commitment to the BBI process.

“It was meant to water down the situation. It was already causing unease that the BBI process is for Raila. He has remained consistent that he will make public his decision after the referendum,” said an ODM MP.

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