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January 24, 2019

OKECH KENDO: By-elections test ODM fairness


An interesting debate is underway in Migori county, where the date for the Senate by-election has been set. Voters are talking about the reconciling power of a handshake.

The same debate is also running in Homa Bay county, where a gubernatorial by-election is expected. The expectation is linked to a pending decision of the Supreme Court on a governor election petition. The High Court and the Court of Appeal have nullified this election, citing copious “illegalities and irregularities”.

Justice JR Karanja of the High Court in Homa Bay, and appellant court judges Philip Waki, Fatuma Sichale and Otieno Odek, sitting in Kisumu, established the Homa Bay governor election was compromised beyond repair.

The Supreme Court nullified the presidential election of August 8 last year on account of similar “irregularities and illegalities”. This court is unlikely to contradict its precedent. But there are optimists on both sides of the Homa Bay gubernatorial divide: One allied to Governor Cyprian Awiti hopes for a miracle. They hope the Supreme Court judges may see a ‘grey area’ the lower courts overlooked.

Officially, the incumbent has appealed the decisions of the two courts, but cynics consider the petition a decoy. They claim the governor and his allies are buying time to prepare for a by-election, hide evidence of corruption, or to continue the plunder.

Theft of computers in strategic offices, and burning of critical accounting county offices have been reported. Insiders have also publicly talked of a cartel that has captured the county. Observers agree this cartel is running down the county. Seven top officers of the county assembly have been charged with corruption. The county executive is also under investigation for corruption.

The change faction allied to Oyugi Magwanga, a popular politician, are ready for election. They say they are ready to face Awiti or any other ODM candidate.

The change team sits on the right side of history: Magwanga’s anti-corruption message and call for an alternative leadership resonate with the public. The message also fits into the national anti-corruption wave.

Voters won’t allow politicians to support theft in Homa Bay, while condemning plunder in Nairobi. They won’t allow MPs who nurse governor ambitions to subvert the public interest to feed their greed for public funds. Magwanga, a former Kasipul MP, has ramped up the message for three years now. He offers a leadership that promises value for public money. The people demand no less.

They voted for Magwanga during party primaries in April, last year. He proved this at the ODM nominations tribunal at the Mash Park Hotel in Nairobi. He also convinced the bench when the conflict moved to the inter-parties election dispute court in Milimani. The party denied Magwanga the ticket, even though he was then ODM Homa Bay county secretary. He ran for governor as an independent candidate.

The courts’ decisions, the alternative leadership message, and the war on corruption have increased Magwanga’s popularity. The times have also given urgency to the accountability plank.

The award of the ODM Senate by-election ticket to Ochillo Ayacko in Migori, a former independent candidate for governor, has further complicated matters. The people are asking, why give Ayacko the ODM ticket but remain conspicuously silent on Homa Bay, where Magwanga is the runaway favourite on any party ticket?

The debates, largely taking place in Bunge la Wananchi and local FM stations, test ODM’s fairness, consistency, and commitment to democracy. The illegalities for which the National Super Alliance won a case at the Supreme Court a year ago are the same irregularities that marred the Homa Bay governor election. The Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission is the villain in both cases.

In Migori, where the race to replace the late Senator Ben Oluoch is on, some voters are celebrating the consequences of ‘Building Bridges’ to mend the party after the acrimonious 2017 primaries. ODM leader Raila Odinga engineered the Ochillo-Obado handshake.

The debaters in the two counties agree that what’s good for the goose is good for the gander.

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