Prime Minister Raila Odinga and his deputy Musalia Mudavadi took separate roads to meet ODM delegates as concern grew over the future of the Orange party.
While Mr Odinga was meeting delegates from Ukambani region, Mr Mudavadi was meeting others at the Coast as the two leaders were drumming up support for the upcoming delegates conference to pick the party’s flagbearer in the general elections.
But even as the two leaders were speaking to the delegates, concern was growing that Mr Odinga’s opponents might secretly back Mr Mudavadi to knock the premier out of the presidential race.
An uncharacteristically bold Mr Mudavadi has declared that he will take on Mr Odinga in a contest for the ODM ticket and has insisted that the party primaries be conducted at the county level. (READ: Mudavadi vows to run against Raila)
But key Odinga allies like Bondo MP Oburu Oginga, the PM’s brother, and ODM chief whip Jakoyo Midiwo have asked Mr Mudavadi to drop his demand that polls be held in the counties. (READ: ODM primaries for top seat to be done in counties)
“Even in America I do not think we can have a scenario where President Barack Obama changes positions with his deputy Joe Biden to run for the presidency,” Mr Midiwo said.
He expressed fears that Mr Mudavadi’s activities were causing friction in the party and urged him to “slow down”.
However, the unarticulated concern by Mr Odinga’s supporters is that if the party uses counties as electoral units, the PM’s adversaries might manipulate supporters in populous regions such as Rift Valley, Central and Eastern to back Mr Mudavadi.
The strategy would help knock Mr Odinga out of the presidential race at the party level.
Mr Odinga’s principal rivals, Deputy Prime Minister Uhuru Kenyatta, Eldoret North MP William Ruto and Vice-President Kalonzo Musyoka, draw strong support from their backyards in Central, Rift Valley and Ukambani regions.
The three have declared their intention to block Mr Odinga from succeeding President Kibaki.
On Saturday, Roads minister Franklin Bett, who supports Mr Odinga, told the Sunday Nation he was aware that some delegates allied to the PM’s rivals were planning to stop Mr Odinga by voting for Mr Mudavadi.
The minister said that Kalenjin voters have been misled to believe that Mr Odinga was the cause of their problems.
However, he said he was in ODM to stay despite the fact that the party no longer enjoyed the support of the community.
Speaking to the Sunday Nation, Mr Mudavadi expressed confidence that if the primaries were held at the county level he would floor Mr Odinga.
His proposal is that the 47 counties be used as polling centres, bringing together 60 women, men and youth each per county to form a collegiate.
These would create 180 delegates for each of the counties. After the vote, to be supervised by the electoral commission, the results would be transmitted to a national tallying centre where the winner would be called.
The DPM reckons that the system would not only be easier to manage but also cheaper. He put the cost at Sh40 million.
Mr Odinga’s group has insisted on the traditional National Delegates Conference.
“I am sure to put up a good fight. Let us go beyond fear. Those stuck with the NDC are conservative,” he said in a phone interview.
For the past three weeks, Mr Mudavadi has been aggressively criss-crossing the country seeking support ahead of the nomination contest.
Waking up to the harsh reality that his deputy, who is also the Local Government minister, is determined to snatch the ODM ticket from him, Mr Odinga responded by hitting the stump to woo delegates ahead of the party primaries.
However, Mr Odinga is a consummate political operator with strong organisational skills, grassroot contacts and resources likely to be deployed in the campaigns.
And since the next election appears to be his last chance, it is a situation that compels him to use all the tools at his disposal to secure the ticket.
Given the high stakes, especially for Mr Odinga, snatching the ticket from him will be no walk in the park for Mr Mudavadi.
The PM’s camp has reacted with unusual urgency to downplay what is increasingly shaping up to be a formidable challenge to the ODM ticket.
He has lined up a series of meetings across the country that will see him visit Eastern, Turkana, Western and Rift Valley by the end of the week.
In addition to possible backing from the populous Rift Valley, Central and Coast regions, Mr Mudavadi, who has been accused of living in the premier’s shadow, is emboldened by the support of his numerous Luhya community which forms the largest voting bloc in ODM.
That is why the DPM remains an invaluable asset for Mr Odinga who invited him to be his running mate in the 2007 presidential race.
It is likely that Mr Odinga’s opponents may accuse Mr Mudavadi of betraying the man who resurrected his political career in the run-up to the 2007 election.
In his campaign, the ODM deputy leader has been out to destroy the aura of invincibility that has cloaked Mr Odinga.
A picture returns of a man determined to demonstrate that Mr Odinga is beatable — and in ODM.
The Sabatia MP argues that in a party which roots for devolution and democracy, the county election system would broaden popular participation in the election and strengthen the party at the grassroots.
Considered mild-mannered, Mr Mudavadi is determined to demonstrate that he has the temperament, character and know-how to lead the party into a General Election.
During his tour of Rift Valley, some ODM supporters told Mr Mudavadi that they are persuaded that he was in a position to deliver victory in the next election compared to Mr Odinga who is seen as having made enemies of key politicians who have ganged up against him.
“He is attracting support in the region. We were frank with him because we wanted to have a feeling of what was happening on the ground,” said Mr Kiptum Binott, the ODM Mogotio branch chairman.
Having worked with former President Moi, who at one time appointed him vice-president, Mr Mudavadi enjoys a warm relationship with Rift Valley residents.
His meeting in Kabarnet, Baringo County was dubbed a “homecoming” by the locals who say he was born there when his father Moses Mudamba Mudavadi worked in the region as an education officer.
Keiyo County Council chairman Simon Kibet says Rift residents with grievances against Mr Odinga might seize the opportunity to settle scores against the PM.
A section of the Kalenjin is accusing the PM of allegedly abandoning them with many shifting their loyalty to the URP, headed by Mr Odinga’s nemesis, Eldoret North MP Wiliam Ruto.
“I’m not in ODM, but it is my prayer that the delegates pick Mudavadi. We are okay with that; in fact, he has come to our county, and I think people liked him,” he said.
A review of his programme shows that Mr Mudavadi has focused his energies on areas seen to be drifting away from the PM like the Rift Valley, Coast, and parts of Western region.
The Deputy Prime Prime minister has so far toured and met party delegates in Busia, Kwale, Trans Nzoia, Kilifi, Taveta, Kajiado, Nandi, Elgeyo-Marakwet, Baringo, Uasin Gishu, Kakamega, Bungoma and Vihiga.
He is scheduled to be in Mombasa this weekend. There is also the International Criminal Court factor that threatens to block Mr Kenyatta and Mr Ruto from the presidential race.
During his tour of Baringo county, residents spoke of Mr Mudavadi as a compromise candidate.
Seen as a moderate, Mr Kenyatta and Mr Ruto would consider Mr Mudavadi a “safer” candidate in case they don’t run.
And the three share a history. It should be remembered that in 2002, Mr Mudavadi was Mr Kenyatta’s running mate.