Let’s settle a few issues first. Raila Odinga will be the CORD Presidential Candidate in the 2017 presidential polls. That is not in doubt. No one else is as eminently qualified to take on incumbent Uhuru Kenyatta as the son of Ajuma and Mary.
The former Prime Minister has been in the trenches for as long as some of us can remember and has, sometimes singlehandedly, forced major governance changes in the nation. He is currently the only opposition leader with a solid voting constituency that straddles beyond his ethnic backyard. Despite his age, he remains energetic and evokes strong emotions in his admirers and haters alike.
In short, a duel between the son of Jomo and any other candidate is going to be the most colourless electoral contest since independence. Having settled the issue of the candidate, the next headache for the CORD coalition is the person who can bring credibility to the team and complement Mr. Odinga as running mate. Former Vice President, Kalonzo Musyoka’s natural home is Jubilee.
The Wiper Party Leader looks rather out of place as a CORD Principal and oppositionist. He is used to being in government and is least likely to stay in CORD unless he is made the Presidential Candidate. Besides, his Ukambani backyard seem to have nurtured and tolerated other competitors key among them Mrs. Charity Ngilu, who is expected to run for the Kitui gubernatorial seat, and the current Governor of Machakos County, Dr. Alfred Mutua.
Conisdering the scheme of things, the only two ways Mr. Musyoka can get the Kamba to vote as a block is either with him as the CORD flag bearer or with him leading the Kamba to Jubilee. While the former is simply unthinkable, given Mr. Odinga’s stature the latter is likely to be received well on the ground since he will be taking his people back to the government.
This leaves Mr. Odinga with only one viable option that can propel him to the Presidency. That option resides with the numbers-rich, but sometimes, unreliable Luhya community. The Luhya are not only the second largest community in the country but they have in the past closely identified with Mr. Odinga’s political struggles and in many ways consider him as one of their own.
CORD co-principal and FORD-K leader, Moses Wetangula, has been angling for key role within the coalition. Yet his own presidential launch in the Luhya heartland of Kakamega was with strong resistance by Mr. Odinga’s supporters in the region. For a party that prides itself in being the champion of reforms, the fight against corruption and good governance, Mr. Wetangula’s reform credentials are very thin and lackluster.
Whereas his presence in CORD has helped in projecting the coalition’s broad-based support and national appeal, the former Foreign Affairs Minister is a lightweight in both national and western region politics. He has not even succeeded in carving a niche as the automatic Bukusu leader, let alone winning the entire Luhya community support.
Mr. Odinga is actually more popular in Luhyaland than Mr. Wetangula. Put head to head for Luhya votes, Mr. Odinga would beat Mr. Wetangula hands down. His personal credentials aside, Mr. Wetangula also faces a major credibility problem among CORD core supporters. Although he has been a CORD co-principal for more than five years, Mr. Odinga’s core supporters still view him with suspicion.
They are not banking much on him and indeed some expect him to cross over to Jubilee either before or after the next elections. Having Mr. Wetangula as running mate would be a wasted opportunity and a monumental failure on Mr. Odinga’s part. Technically, 2017 will be Mr. Odinga’s final lap in his bid for the highest office in the land.
It will cap a long and colourful political career and how he plays it will greatly influence his legacy. The only Luhya leader who can inject new life into Mr. Odinga’s candidature is the cool and collected Musalia Mudavadi. Mudavadi quit ODM ahead of the last general elections and ran for President on the Amani National Congress party ticket.
He managed a sizable number of votes from across the country. Initially, he was viewed as the establishment candidate before the Uhuru and Ruto juggernaut reshaped the electoral contest. He remains a friend of the Odinga’s and they agree on many issues. Perhaps even more crucial to Mr. Odinga is that the ANC leader is considered a safe bet by the ruling class.
He remains one of the most viable likely Statehouse occupants to date. Mr. Odinga only needs to assure him of his backing in the 2022 elections, the year when Jubilee will also have to undergo a transition from Uhuru to a new leader, presumably Deputy President William Ruto.
Mr. Odinga must make this crucial decision right away to give him sufficient time to deal with the expected fall. With Western, Nyanza, Coast and half of Nairobi in his vote basket, the CORD leader also needs to get his supporters to register as voters and actually get out on Election Day to vote. This is the only way Mr. Odinga can give the organized and well-resourced Jubilee a run for its money.