• One should remember that by the time the by-election was held, Karan had been an MP for barely a year and a half
• In a by-election in a "single party zone" such as Ugenya, the issue of the party does not really matter, the individual candidate is either the king or the villain.
A debate has been ongoing over the recent by-elections in Ugenya and Embakasi West, with one school of thought contending that the defeat of the ODM candidates is a major set back for the Orange party.
The ODM leadership has, on its part, contended that the defeat is really no big deal. In any case, those who won or lost were all within the Nasa family. And that happens to be the truth. Its significance is much more likely to be understood more clearly as events unfold in the coming days.
In this very useful discussion, which one would expect after such elections, I would like to point out a few important facts that are being glossed over, which I would like explained. I will dwell more on the Ugenya case since this is the one that has attracted more attention.
Let us remember these by-elections were being held without the candidates campaigning for any presidential election so as to capitalise on the popularity of both their particular presidential candidate and the party. In the case of Ugenya, Chris Karan benefitted from being an ODM/Nasa candidate and campaigning for Raila Odinga as the presidential candidate in the 2017 General Election.
In this by-election, these two factors were missing. Apart from being an ODM candidate, Karan was for all intents and purposes on his own. So was Irshadali Sumra in Embakasi West.
One should remember further that by the time the by-election was held, Karan had been an MP for barely a year and a half, during which time he spent most of the time in the courts fighting for his tenure against an experienced predecessor. He had, therefore, not had much time to stamp his "print" of development in Ugenya compared to what his predecessor had done during his five-year tenure as MP.
David Ochieng', on the other hand, had five years as the MP for Ugenya during which time he worked closely with some of the Ugenya elite to "stamp" his development record in the constituency. Stamping a record is a matter of perception and reality, and the imaginative use of NG-CDF. Also, mobilisation of development partners funds frequently helps some MPs develop positive perceptions at the grassroots. Ochieng' may easily have had this advantage over Karan, and must have used it effectively in his door-to-door campaigns to argue he was the "right" candidate.
Please do remember that, in his tenure as MP, Ochieng' served on the ODM ticket, and only left to the little-known Movement for Democracy and Growth party towards the ODM nominations in 2017. In a by-election, where voters must have focussed more on the individual rather than the party, Ochieng' again had a major head start on Karan.
I want to emphasise this fact again: In a by-election in a "single party zone" such as Ugenya, the issue of the party does not really matter, the individual candidate is either the king or the villain. If Ochieng' had stood on a Jubilee or URP ticket, the story would have been very different.
Kenyans will remember that the only by-election where belonging to a definite political party more or less dictated the success or failure of a candidate was the 1966 "little general election." It was named as such because the Kanu government had decided that MPs who had decided to form the new opposition party, the Kenya Peoples Union, had to seek fresh mandates from the people. So the election that followed was for all intents and purposes a contest between Kanu and KPU and not just the individuals who stood. It was a mini general election.
In Ugenya and Embakasi West, individuals who stood in the last elections had grievances against those who won and the manner in which the elections were run by the IEBC. I am quite sure that had the ODM approached Ochieng' and asked him to run on the party ticket after winning his petition, he would have had very little reason to refuse the offer. But that opportunity was somehow missed.
Do voters pay attention to national and global issues during by-elections? They may pay attention and enjoy the civic education but that may not necessarily influence who they vote for. Local issues and the relationship of the candidate to them are of paramount importance. Jaramogi Oginga Odinga perfected this art of bringing issues to the doorstep of the voter in the Gem by-election after the unfortunate death of CMG Argwings Kodhek in January 1969.
The Kanu government was determined to campaign on its "development record", pointing out some of the major things the government had done in Kenya since independence in 1963. Supporting Wasonga Sijeyo, well known locally but with no major influence nationally, Jaramogi stamped Gem on foot and by bicycle explaining the virtues of both Wasonga and his KPU party to the Gem people. He thereby "localised" the campaign, and Kanu's attempts to make the election a purely a "government versus opposition contest" failed miserably as the image of "the local boy fighting the intruding Goliath" won the hearts of the villagers.
There is no doubt in my mind that Ochieng' must have quietly reminded his constituents that for all intents and purposes he is an ODM supporter. That is why he was quick to point out, soon after the results were announced, that he had no differences with Raila. Time alone will tell how long it will take Ochieng’ to retrace his steps "back home."
Having said all that, we need now to be sober and focus on the bigger picture. By-elections will come and go, but the question "which way Kenya?" will still remain an elephant in the room wherever we are.
ODM should focus on this as its major mission now, taking the issues to the grassroots so that the wananchi are fully engaged in the discourse.