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Sunday, March 11, 2012
ODM plans for Mudavadi exit
By ISAAC ONGIRI
What happens next after ODM deputy party leader Musalia Mudavadi fails to dislodge the man at the helm, Prime Minister Raila Odinga?
This is the question troubling allies of the party leader, who have been preparing the ground and are confident of victory should the contest come to a vote.
An informal ‘rapid response’ team expected to prevail on Mudavadi to back down before then has not had any success. The PM and his inner circle are now contemplating the possibility of life without the Sabatia MP in ODM, even as Raila calls for an end to talk about the ongoing leadership contest.
Despite Musalia’s pledge he will remain in the party if he loses, he has also threatened unspecified "consequences" if the nomination is not free and fair.
"We must avoid reckless handling of the processes or be ready to face the consequences that follow if the processes are mismanaged," he told a rally in Kakamega recently.
Suspicious of the way things are going, the PM is weighing his options should the leadership battle end with a political falling out between the two. Sources say the Mudavadi group raised suspicion when they rejected a proposal to have the DPM hold joint rallies with the PM to reassure party supporters.
On Saturday, Raila, 67, attended the burial in Bungoma of nine pupils crushed by a lorry last week.
Addressing mourners, the PM played down reports of a rift with Musalia, 51, even as he spoke of warm relations with Ford-Kenya, a party that could provide a Mudavadi replacement.
"Those who do not belong in ODM are the ones making the loudest noise about our presidential nomination," the PM said. "Tell them to relax and mind their own political parties. We know where we are going with Musalia."
Speaking in Nakuru on Friday, Musalia said he was not at war with his party leader. He said his only desire was to offer leadership devoid of acrimony, hatred and suspicion.
"I am a peaceful person, humble, moderate and capable of stabilising political temperatures," the DPM said, as he urged the region’s delegates to support him.
Mudavadi, who addressed party delegates at the Nakuru Showground, described a clause in the party constitution making the party leader the automatic presidential candidate as "unacceptable".
"If that were to be the case, all county chairmen should also automatically be cleared to run as party candidates for senate or county seats, and even MPs in the case of constituencies," he argued. Mudavadi described his challenge for the party leadership as "democracy at work" and demanded to be accorded a level playing field.
There is now a feeling within parts of ODM that Mudavadi is walking the same path taken by Kalonzo Musyoka in 2007, by laying down his terms for a party vote for the presidential ticket. The internal rivalry between Raila and Kalonzo ended with a split in ODM-Kenya in August 2007, with Raila leaving to take over the newly registered ODM.
Raila allies have floated dozens of theories to explain the leadership challenge. They claim Mudavadi plans to leave ODM and is being ‘sponsored’ by the party’s rivals to cause divisions before he quits.
In an interview with The Standard On Sunday, Deputy House Speaker Farah Maalim expressed growing concern over the conditions being set by Mudavadi for the nomination. The Lagdera MP says some people in ODM are beginning to question whether the deputy leader’s challenge was genuine.
Immigration minister Otieno Kajwang’ recently led several MPs in dismissing Mudavadi’s call for "constitutional nomination rules", saying the DPM is looking for excuses to leave the party.
"We are a bit worried about his conditions," Farah said, echoing fears they may be excuses for walking out. "I know that in a fair contest he cannot beat the Prime Minister. Raila is much more rooted on the ground, than some people think. However, it will be regrettable if the DPM leaves us."
Some party insiders are so convinced Mudavadi’s departure in inevitable, they are even encouraging others to run for deputy party leader’s position. The occupant is assumed to be the running mate to the party presidential nominee.
The Standard On Sunday has learnt that Raila is working on a stopgap plan to contain the situation if Mudavadi pushes on to a walk out. ODM insiders say the plan includes having National Assembly Speaker Kenneth Marende or Foreign Affairs Minister Moses Wetangula replace the DPM as deputy leader. The move would help salvage the PM’s Western support from the blow it would take from a Mudavadi exit.
Sources say ODM strategists have informally sounded out the two on the idea. When confronted over the issue on Saturday, Wetangula (Ford-Kenya) was non-committal.
"I can’t discuss the matter with you because my politics is not done in the media," the Sirisia MP stated. "However, my party Ford-Kenya is an institution willing to have structured relationships with parties, but not with individuals." Attempts to reach Marende to comment on the matter failed. But Farah Maalim, who is Marende’s deputy, said ODM has no shortage of leaders to replace Mudavadi or even the PM.
"ODM has no shortage of good leaders to step in at any time," he said. "I do not want to speculate on Marende’s future but, indeed, we have leaders who can replace the PM and his deputy."
Another MP who did not want to be quoted confirmed that the PM’s side is planning for Mudavadi’s possible exit to ensure they are not caught flat-footed.
"We are obviously working on how to fill the void," said a top level MP from Nyanza. "We are now very much alive to his mission. We can’t wait until the drama is played out." Interestingly, Co-operatives minister Joe Nyagah last week announced he would contest the deputy party leader’s position at the National Delegates’ Conference. Nyagah was a member of the now-disbanded ODM ‘Pentagon’, an informal team of regional leaders who supported Raila during the 2007 General Election.
Mudavadi says his leadership challenge is intended to clean up the way ODM works. He has accused Raila and his allies of "living by rhetoric", running negative campaigns, and paying lip service to democracy and reform. His attacks on what he calls the "politics of polarisation" and jabs about dirty politics have led to a strain with the PM.
Reliable sources say the PM and DPM have been avoiding each other, even staying away from an up-market bar in Kileleshwa that they have been frequenting weekly for the last five years. Insiders also describe as "unusual" the fact that Mudavadi has also stopped making the frequent visits to the Prime Minister’s office as he used to. Cabinet minister Mohamed Elmi says the Mudavadi issue was generating a storm in the party, but insisted that the conflict had not reached a crisis level.
"At the moment we are not talking about who can replace Mudavadi. We are in the stage where we have set up a team to address this matter and get a solution," Elmi said.
His Cabinet colleague Franklin Bett said the threat of a rift in ODM was due to a group of "politically insensitive" personalities who were ignorant of the democratic principles required to run a party.
"We have people among us who are extremely careless and increasingly intolerant of other opinions," Bett warned. "These are the people pushing us to the danger of total political collapse as a party."
The Roads minister said several top-level members of the party have confronted Raila and Mudavadi about the way their rivalry was playing out in public.
"We asked them about the style of these campaigns at a meeting at the KCB Leadership Centre in Karen recently," Bett said. "We raised concerns, but they told us they are able to handle it."
Energy Assistant Minister Mohammud Mohamed said two distinct camps with ethnic leanings have formed, one for Mudavadi and another gravitating around Raila, something he warned was causing concerns.
"There is a clear divide along ethnic lines. If this is not contained in time, we fear the party could disintegrate beyond repair," the assistant minister warned.
Transport Assistant Minister Simon Ogari described the problem inside the PM’s Orange party as a real storm capable of throwing it off balance ahead of the elections.
"ODM is in serious trouble. The Mudavadi renaissance is real and the PM would better put in place a Plan B otherwise we risk perishing as a party," Ogari said.
Another joint party National Executive Council and Parliamentary Group meeting has been set for next week Friday 23. This meeting will try to arrive at a final decision on when the National Delegates Conference is to be held and how the leadership contest will be resolved.