Opposition leader Raila Odinga on Monday downplayed his Orange Democratic Party's humiliating defeat in two by-elections last week, describing the loss as a “drop in the ocean”.
“What’s the big deal,” Mr Odinga fumed when asked to comment on the results of the Embakasi South and Ugenya by-elections.
Equally defiant was the party’s secretary-general Edwin Sifuna, who told Nasa’s affiliates to brace themselves for more political fights.
“Wiper has won this one, but they can rest assured we will have more battles in future,” Mr Sifuna said of the Embakasi by-election.
His statement followed accusations by Nasa affiliates, including Wiper, Amani National Congress (ANC) and Ford Kenya, which depict ODM as being arrogant and having the “Big Brother syndrome.”
Mr Odinga, who has been ridiculed by his Jubilee Party rivals and other Nasa affiliate leaders for emerging empty-handed in the mini-polls, said it was clear the elections could go either way.
The polls, Mr Odinga said, were strongly contested during the 2017 General Election, with results showing narrow margins between winners and the next candidates.
The defeats, he said, should thus not be misconstrued as a harbinger of problems in ODM.
This was the first time Mr Odinga was commenting on the outcome of Friday's by-elections that has emboldened his critics, including, Deputy President William Ruto, who claimed it portrayed his dwindling fortunes, and was a sign of things to come in the 2022 vote.
“I’m not all bothered that the party lost in the two by-elections because from the onset, they were closely fought and could have gone any way. I wonder why people read too much in that. In Embakasi South, Irshad Sumra lost and congratulated the winner, Julius Mawathe. In Ugenya, it was also a close battle,” Mr Odinga said.
In Embakasi South, Mr Mawathe of Wiper, who enjoyed Jubilee backing during the campaigns, carried the day with 21,628 votes while Mr Sumra of ODM garnered 7,988 votes.
The seat fell vacant when Mr Sumra successfully lodged a petition against Mr Mawathe’s August 7, 2017 victory.
In Ugenya, which is in Mr Odin, ga’s Siaya home county, ODM’s Christopher Karani was beaten by his predecessor David Ochieng who bolted from the Orange party in 2017. Mr Ochieng vied on the Movement for Democracy and Growth (MDG) ticket.
Mr Odinga told his supporters there was no cause for worry despite the loss.
The Orange leader has been at loggerheads with Mr Ruto and his allies over the war on corruption and his handshake with President Kenyatta, which is hailed for having stabilised the country after the acrimonious 2017 elections.
While Mr Odinga and his ODM brigade call for firm action against top government officials mentioned in scandals, Mr Ruto and his allies say the fight should not be politicised.
Mr Odinga said: “This battle (against graft) is not against a particular community. It is against individuals who pilfer public resources, regardless of their community. If anyone has concrete evidence that it targets a community, they should submit it to the necessary authorities.”
Political analysts cite overconfidence, disorganisation, lack of research on messaging, individualistic interests and ignorance of history as some of the factors that could have cost the Orange party victory in the just-concluded poll.
Political analysts say ODM underestimated its opponents and went to the polls without a proper strategy.
Mr Javas Bigambo says the party was living in a fool’s paradise, assuming that all was well. “There was underestimation of the underdogs. For instance, in Embakasi, the effect of the handshake was thought to provide national political capital for the ODM candidate to win without much effort,” he said.
The analysts also noted that Mr Odinga did not exert “so much of his effort and passion in the two by-elections”.
Maseno University political science lecturer Tom Mboya said ethnic groups in Embakasi South also contributed to Mr Mawathe’s victory.
“The Kamba community is dominant in the constituency and coupled with the support of other Nasa affiliate parties, which did not field candidates, Wiper was headed for a win,” Mr Mboya stated.
He said the ODM’s messaging was “pathetic as they dwelt on rhetoric without touching on issues affecting people on the ground”.
The messaging revolved around national issues and not what affects the local people, he said.
In Ugenya, the ODM brigade talked of battle between Raila and DP Ruto, which was far-fetched. “Senator Orengo also dwelt much on national politics, including his impeachment plans and never focused on local challenges.”
He however, dismissed claims that Mr Ruto had a hand in Mr Ochieng’s victory in Ugenya, calling it “far-fetched”. He said it was wrong of the DP to hijack the process. If he had campaigned for David, “he could have lost by a very wide margin,” Mr Mboya added.
A senior campaigner of ODM blamed the loss partly on Mr Karani and disorganised campaigns, which mainly and routinely relied on political rallies to woo voters.
By Brian Okinda, Justus Ochieng and Rushdie Oudia