Friday, February 28, 2014

The Only Relevance Of ODM Party Polls

Thursday, February 27, 2014 - 00:00 -- BY WYCLIFFE MUGA
This weekend sees a much-awaited event finally take place – the ODM party elections, which is supposed to create the “winning team” that will at last propel the ODM party leader, Raila Odinga, all the way to State House.
Raila may not have declared his candidature yet. But few are fooled by his posturing: no presidential candidate who believes he was rigged out twice - and obtained ever greater tallies with each election - gives up without trying one more time.
Of course there are many who have no doubt that Raila will never be president; that he might as well just give up and retire from politics. But those are people with no knowledge of history.
It is not at all unusual for a man who to only become president, after three or four unsuccessful attempts.
The current president of Zambia, Michael Sata only gained victory in his third attempt – much like our own former President Mwai Kibaki. And he had a far less auspicious start to his career as a presidential candidate: when his Patriotic Front party first participated in an election, in 2001, it only won one seat in parliament.
Then there is former Senegal president Abdoulaye Wade: he first ran for president in 1978, and lost three consecutive times, finally winning on his fourth attempt in the year 2000. He then won re-election in 2007. But in 2012 he was defeated, after a controversial and unprecedented bid for a third term, which was only made possible by a constitutional amendment which did away with the previous two-term limit for the presidency.
Nor is it just in Africa where such things happen: the late French political leader Francois Mitterrand first ran for president in 1965, and only gained victory finally, 16 years later in 1981. Mitterrand then went on to be the longest serving president of France, holding office up to 1995.
The point then is that from a historical viewpoint, there is nothing at all unusual in Raila now planning to make his fourth attempt at winning the presidency. Many others, who in the end succeeded, followed much the same path.
Nor is the outcome of the ODM internal elections a matter of any real significance.
Other than perhaps the question of who ends up as the Secretary-General, does it really matter who holds what position in that party? Where is the Kenyan political party which does not approach its internal party elections without a pre-selected lineup of ‘new party officials’? Are not all such party elections merely a PR exercise aimed at presenting the country with a team of officials which “reflects the face of the nation”?
For by now – unless we have a pleasant surprise awaiting us in 2017 – the established pattern is that Kenyans vote along rigidly tribal lines at every General Election. So what will determine the outcome in 2017, has nothing really to do with "clean party elections". Kenyan political parties are, by and large, merely the 'special purpose entities' for contesting elections, unburdened by ideology, or democratic traditions or indeed, any practical plan for ruling the country.
And given that there has been very little by way of ‘reconciliation’ since the March 2013 election; given that those who believed that Uhuru won fair and square continue to believe so, and those who believe Raila was rigged out cling fiercely to that conviction; I would say that Uhuru will be a very vulnerable president come 2017.
A good part of this vulnerability is of the president's own making: but some of it - like his failure to appease the Rift Valley in the matter of appointments to high public office - would have been impossible for any president.
In any event, it seems to me that - given relatively free elections - the Kenyan preference, going back to 2002, is for a one-term president.
So there is one very important thing which should come out of the ODM party elections – something which matters much more than who wins what seat, other than Raila himself.
In general, leaders who end up having to wait for decades before they win the presidency, tend not to want to let it go once they finally get there.
So it would be sound strategy, as well as the right thing to do, if Raila - upon being declared the ODM flag-bearer all the way to the 2017 election - immediately and publicly announced that it is his solemn intention to only serve for one term.
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