Why ODM bigwigs gave Bonchari campaigns wide berth
Geoffrey Mosoku and Hillary Mageka
The Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) top leaders gave the Bonchari by-election election a wide berth despite the party’s candidate Pavel Oimeke clinching the seat in the hotly contested by-election.
Unlike in the by-elections in Ugenya, Msambweni and Matungu where the party’s top honchos led by its leader Raila Odinga conducted vigorous campaigns, none of the top ODM politicians was in Bonchari to rally support for Oimeke.
This, notwithstanding the fact that ODM is regarded as the dominant political party in Nyanza and the Bonchari by-election was a matter of life and death, given that it did not have a single MP in the larger Gusii.
Raila’s two deputies, governors Hassan Joho of Mombasa and Wycliffe Oparanya of Kakamega never stepped in Bonchari as was Senate Minority Leader James Orengo and ODM national chairman John Mbadi.
ODM director of campaigns Junet Mohamed and party Whip Gladys Wanga also gave the Bonchari campaigns a wide berth. Ironically Mbadi, Junet and Wanga all pass through Bonchari constituency to and from their respective constituencies in Migori and Homa Bay counties.
Only Secretary General Edwin Sifuna was dispatched from the national office to join National Treasurer Timothy Bosire, who hails from the region.
Heavy police presence
Sifuna was accompanied by party staff led by Executive Director Oduor Ong’wen and communications director Phillip Etale. It was, therefore, left to Kisii Governor James Ongwae, Senator Prof Sam Ongeri and Woman Rep Janet Ong’era to lead the campaigns for Oimeke that were characterised by heavy police presence.
Yesterday, Junet downplayed the absence of the party’s top politicians in Bonchari, saying ODM was “well represented on the ground.”
“What bigger party presence than that of the secretary general (Sifuna) and the national treasurer (Bosire). We could not all be in Bonchari, did you want our party leader to be in Bonchari when he is recuperating? Did you see Uhuru or Ruto in Bonchari or Juja?,” Junet charged when reached for comment.
Insiders in ODM had earlier indicated that some top officials had unsuccessfully attempted to convince Raila to prevail upon Oimeke to step down for the Jubilee candidate, Zebedeo Opore “in the spirit of Handshake.”
However, having failed in their quest, those behind the request skipped the campaigns with reports that their mobilisation to the party for the by-election was lackluster or not there at all.
Some of the ODM’s senior politicians, People Daily understands, kept off Bonchari due to undue surveillance by police and their agents.
Some were caught in a catch 22 situation to support Oimeke’s candidature against Jubilee’s Zebedeo Opore, who had the backing of the government (read Interior Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang’i).
Since the advent of handshake in 2018, ODM luminaries have been frequent visitors to Harambee House and feared their presence in the Bonchari campaigns would jeopardise their relationship with Harambee House, said an insider.
In the absence of the ODM bigwigs, it was upon Ongwae to take charge of the campaigns and rescue what would have been an embarrassing outcome.
He however did not manage to win to his side five time Kitutu Chache North MP Jimmy Angwenyi and his Kitutu Chache South counterpart Richard Onyonka who threw their weight behind Jubilee Party candidate Zebedeo John Opore, a veteran politician, who once served as Bonchari Constituency MP between 1997 and 2007, 2013 and 2017.
Addressing jubilant ODM supporters at Suneka Town Hall tallying centre, the governor attributed Oimeke’s win to a concerted strategy that encompasses serious grassroots mobilization, an experienced campaign team and God’s grace.
“We thank God for his mercy. I thank all the ODM leaders on the ground, including our good senator Prof. Sam Ongeri, County MP Janet Ong’era and everyone who was involved in this victory. We must also thank the people of Bonchari for taking our campaign messages seriously. Let me also congratulate the winner Pavel Oimeke,” said Ongwae shortly after Oimeke was declared the winner.
Oimeke garnered 8,049 votes , while Jubilee’s Opore got 7,279 votes, while UDA ticket-holder Teresa Bitutu came third with 6,964 votes.
Kisii Senator Sam Ongeri in congratulating Oimeke said “deep focus” led to the outcome, which swung to Oimeke’s favour.
“Despite the many challenges [that] we were subjected to, which are in public domain, we kept our eyes on the ball,” he said.
During the campaigns, the former Energy and Petroleum Regulatory Authority (EPRA) former Director General pledged to complete development projects commissioned by his predecessor.
“There are several stalled infrastructural projects that I promise to help complete. These include schools, roads and the Suneka Airstrip,” he said, pledging to revamp the agricultural sector in the constituency.
The immediate former MP, John Oroo Oyioka, died on February 15, 2021 after a long illness.