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Why Raila is the man to beat for the Nasa presidential ticket

As the National Super Alliance (Nasa) powers ahead with its plans to select or elect its presidential candidate, the one man who poses perhaps the greatest headache as well as effortless solution to the coalition’s Coordinating Committee’s task is Mr Raila Odinga.

Owing to his political experience and style, he is both loved and loathed in equal measure by Kenyan voters.

And to hide behind a parlance of the football, for which he has a partiality, the big question on the minds of Nasa insiders must be whether or not to allow Raila to take a penalty shot for the fourth time after “missing” three shots at goal in 1997, 2007 and 2013.

While he clearly lost the 1997 contest, emerging third behind President Daniel arap Moi and Mr Mwai Kibaki, Mr Odinga – who described that election as “a mere test drive” — has maintained that he was rigged out in 2007 and 2013.

The Saturday Nation has reliably established that one of the highly-guarded and sensitive debates within Nasa revolves around the idea of impressing upon Mr Odinga to stand down.

Only Wiper Democratic Movement leader Kalonzo Musyoka, who is also a contender for the job, has dared to openly confront this issue.

According to him, Kenyan voters are now fatigued by a Raila candidature.

While popularising his own presidential bid, Mr Musyoka, who has equally observed that the Orange Democratic Movement leader has twice been a victim of poll rigging, has pointed out that a Raila candidature will only embolden and encourage Jubilee to rig the polls yet again.

And when this happens, the plotters will react boldly that “after all Raila never accepts poll results”.

POLITICAL RELEVANCE

Yet, a positive attribute of Mr Odinga’s, but which curiously works against his personal ambitions, is that more than any other Nasa leader, he has the strongest control over his core supporters.

He is, therefore, best placed to turn his numbers to support other presidential aspirants, more than would Mr Musyoka, Mr Musalia Mudavadi and Moses Wetang’ula, all of whom are interested in the Nasa presidential ticket.

“Raila probably has a greater capacity to ‘move’ his supporters over to vote for any of the others than do any of the others to move their supporters to vote for someone else if they are not the candidate,” Dr Tom Wolf, a political analyst and lead researcher at IPSOS Synovate, says.

Indeed, these realities complicate any possible moves to lock Mr Odinga out of the ticket.

Doing so is almost tantamount to punishing him for his own political strengths.

Mr Odinga remains a solid and crucial Nasa team player.

He is also a political schemer, who has “miraculously” kept the Jubilee administration on its toes for the last four years.

When President Uhuru Kenyatta and his deputy, Mr William Ruto, were sworn in on April 9, 2013, many believed this would condemn Mr Odinga and Mr Musyoka to political oblivion.

However, considering that the Constitution offers no soft landing for poll losers, the two remained active and maintained political momentum by lobbying for one cause or the other and exposing one scandal after another in the Jubilee administration.

Members allied to the two politicians, for instance, spent the first two years engaging Jubilee on the retirement packages for the former Prime Minister and Vice President.

The two resisted proposals to get paid on condition that they retire from active politics.

RAILA’S POPULARITY
Then the Opposition staged street protests, which were largely spearheaded by Mr Odinga.

First, they were meant to push for constitutional amendments through the “Okoa Kenya Initiative” and later to drive the Issack Hassan-led team out of the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC).

In both instances, Mr Ruto singled out Mr Odinga for criticism.

The Opposition nonetheless succeeded to push the Hassan team out of office this year.

Mr Odinga has spent the most of the time bringing to the fore various scandals, including those touching on the Eurobond and the National Youth Service.

These have informed national debate over time.

More than any of the other candidates, Mr Odinga is the fulcrum around which Nasa politics revolve.

When, for instance, Mr Mudavadi floated the Nasa idea, it was Mr Odinga who first embraced the notion with Mr Musyoka and Mr Wetangula remaining sceptical at first.

It took separate meetings between Mr Mudavadi, Mr Musyoka and Mr Wetang’ula, for the latter two to buy in.

And even judging from their body language and sitting arrangement at public functions, Mr Odinga is always positioned — by design or default — at the center.

This situation is not helped by the media, some members within Nasa and even some Jubilee Party leaders, who in their dealings or political pronouncements, project Mr Odinga as the unofficial Nasa leader.

This position is not entirely misplaced. Many factors indeed point to Mr Odinga as the team’s strongest possible flag-bearer.

Says Dr Wolf: “The conclusion here is obvious – that Raila is more popular on the Opposition side at the moment than any of the others.”

INFLUENCE
Considering that ODM has a presence in all the regions, except central Kenya, it is presumed that Mr Odinga’s support base has a wide geographical spread.

Coupled with the international connections, which include business interests across Africa, as well as a national political network that he has created over 25 years, Igembe South MP, Mithika Linturi, opines that Raila is the strongest candidate Nasa can spring on Jubilee.

“However he cannot win, but he is the only who can offer serious challenge,” said Mr Linturi.

Without singling out Mr Odinga as the favourite, former Agriculture minister Kipruto arap Kirwa added the age factor as a plus to the ODM leader.

“Going by the way they (Uhuru and Ruto) have mismanagement affairs of this country, it is evident that age is not a factor in good governance. In fact the older the more experienced the better,” said Mr Kirwa, who is in Mr Mudavadi’s ANC party.

In the same way it played in favour of founding father Jomo Kenyatta at independence, pundits reckon that the age factor gives Mr Odinga another added advantage.

At independence, given the jostling among younger politicians, such Tom Mboya and James Gichuru, Mr Jaramogi Oginga Odinga opted to give way to Jomo.

But perhaps Mr Odinga’s biggest asset is the solid support he enjoys in the Nyanza region and in Nairobi, where he served for 15 years as MP for Lang’ata constituency.

He also commands a sizeable following in Western region where his party has more elected MPs than any other party, as well as the coastal region and pockets of Rift Valley such as Turkana, Kajiado and Samburu.

FINANCIAL POWER
If the 2013 electoral mapping is anything to by, Mr Odinga commands a bigger region support than any of his colleagues within Nasa.

Out of the 47 elected governors, 16 are from ODM, four from Mr Musyoka’s Wiper party, and one each from Mr Mudavadi’s then United Democratic and Mr Wetan’gula’s Ford Kenya.

A source at Mr Odinga’s Capital Hill Square office, pointed to the ODM leader’s resources as a major factor that could boost his chances of winning the Nasa ticket.

“Besides housing the coalition — Cord and now Nasa — in this office, Raila funds most Opposition political activities directly from his personal resources,” said the source.

Owing to his deep pockets, he has managed to fly around in helicopters to most locations across the country and organise rallies more often than any of his colleagues in the Opposition. This has ensured his presence almost in every corner of the country.

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