f you were a candidate for political office, preparing to run for a position you had failed to win in three previous attempts, what would you say might be your most valuable asset?
In Raila Odinga’s case, the answer is obvious: nothing is more valuable to the former Prime Minister than the narrative — widely accepted by many supporters — that he did not lose at all.
These supporters are willing enough to accept their hero lost in 1997, when he ran a distant third to the winner (President Daniel Moi, seeking reelection) and runner-up Mwai Kibaki.
But when you come to the elections of 2007 and 2013, there are parts of this country — the Coast, Western Kenya and Nyanza — where you cannot throw a stone without hitting someone who believes Raila won both elections. And further believes he was rigged out by ‘a certain community’ determined to cling to power at all costs.
This ‘stolen votes’ narrative is useful to Raila in two ways:
First, it justifies his next presidential bid. If a man has tried three times and lost three times, you can reasonably argue the only dignified thing for him to do is give way to another candidate who may yet prevail against their mutual rivals. But if this man was rigged out, then he has every right to run again to lay claim to what rightfully should have been his five years earlier.
Second, anything that reminds voters in key Raila strongholds that ‘their victory was stolen’ is bound to improve turnout. In terms of voter psychology, there is a world of difference between lining up to cast your ballot for a serial loser (as Raila is invariably painted by his opponents). And lining up to vote for an overwhelmingly popular leader who has faced the unique injustice of twice being denied victory won ‘in broad daylight’.
In one case, supporters would approach the ballot box with weary resignation or very likely would not bother to vote at all. In the second case, Raila’s supporters would willingly queue for hours to vote, fully convinced they were part of a process of correcting a ‘historical injustice’.
What IEBC senior staff — whose resignations are now being demanded — need to realise is that they, like the IEBC commissioners before them, are but pawns in a much larger game.
And whether they stay in office or are forced to resign is not for them to decide.