Nearly five million votes in regions outside the perceived strongholds of the top presidential candidates are likely to determine President Kibaki’s successor on March 4.
The Constitution’s provisions that require a victorious presidential candidate to garner at least 50 per cent plus one of the votes cast means that the campaign will be fought in battleground counties scattered across the country.
The hunt for votes, which is expected to shift to a higher gear in the New Year, will be fought most strongly in counties outside the regions most strongly identified with the top two tickets of Raila Odinga and Kalonzo Musyoka and their rivals Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto.
The combined number of registered voters outside the Mt Kenya, Rift Valley, Nyanza and Eastern regions, where the top candidates are strongest, comes to 4,934,617, according to data drawn from the registration records at the electoral commission.
These voters are expected to be the swing factor in the election because, as in elections in the past, the manner in which voters from the candidates’ backyards will mark their ballots is all but certain.
Nairobi, with 1,778,903 registered voters, is expected to be one of the most hotly contested prizes.
Kisii and Nyamira (634,109 voters), which some analysts say have been strongly leaning towards the Cord, and the Mt Kenya East constituencies of Meru, Embu and Tharaka Nithi (866,329 voters), where Mr Kenyatta will hope to match President Kibaki’s strong performance in 2007, will also be closely watched.
The Coastal counties of Mombasa, Kwale, Kilifi, Tana River, Lamu and Taita-Taveta (1,164,083 voters) will be another key battleground as will the predominantly Maasai counties of Narok and Kajiado with a combined 568,139 votes.
Although they are more sparsely populated than the other parts of the country, the counties in Northern Kenya, including Samburu, West Pokot, Turkana, Marsabit and Isiolo, and the North Eastern Province counties of Garissa, Mandera and Wajir, will witness some of the most vigorous campaigns the regions have seen as each candidate competes for advantage.
That is because, unlike in past elections, it will not be enough to win a plurality of voters, and the victorious candidate must cross the 50 per cent mark to claim State House. The campaigns are expected to be more low key in the candidates’ strongholds with the focus there being achieving a high turnout.
Analysts say the fact that the election will largely be decided by ethnicity – at least in the regions occupied by the big ethnic communities – shows that the country has yet to witness a change in its political culture.
“The election will revolve around individuals, regions and resources,” says University of Nairobi political scientist Prof Winnie Mitullah.
“The problem is that we do not yet have strong political parties that are enduring and which can craft an issue-based platform. In Kenya, the parties revolve around individuals. TNA (Mr Kenyatta’s party) was formed only months ago but has become very popular in the areas where it is strongest. That shows that people do not identify with parties but with individuals.”
Both sides have been spinning heavily in recent weeks, each saying their side starts with an advantage in the race. The TNA team argues that the counties most strongly identified with Mr Kenyatta (Murang’a, Nyandarua, Nyeri, Kirinyaga, Kiambu, Meru, Tharaka Nithi, Embu, Laikipia, and Nakuru) boast a combined vote of 3,922,952, a substantial proportion of which Mr Kenyatta hopes to win.
That yields 5,346,267 when combined with the 1,423,315 votes in the counties where Mr Ruto’s United Republican Party is strongest (Uasin Gishu, Elgeyo Marakwet, Nandi, Baringo, Bomet and Kericho), and where Jubilee hopes to get a big percentage of votes.
Their analysis is that this compares favourably with the vote total from the counties analysts expect to go to Cord. These include the strongholds of Mr Odinga (Siaya, Kisumu, Migori, Homa Bay – 1,320,647) and those of Mr Musyoka, (Kitui, Machakos, Makueni – 1,069,529).
Western Kenya counties associated with Mr Musalia Mudavadi’s United Democratic Front (UDF), and where ODM is expected to poll strongly, boast 1,023,006 votes in Kakamega, Vihiga and Busia.
Bungoma and Trans Nzoia, where both Eugene Wamalwa and Moses Wetang’ula will be vying for prominence and where Cord is also expected to be strong, have 643,333 votes.
These regions combined with the Kisii and Nyamira tally of registered voters of 634,109 come to a total of 4,690,624 votes.
However, the TNA-URP advantage in their strongholds would be wiped out by the close to 5 million votes in the more neutral counties where the election will be won or lost.
An ODM insider who did not want to be named discussing strategy dismissed the TNA analysis as wishful thinking.
He said polls consistently showed that ODM was the most popular party across the country and Mr Odinga would comfortably win the biggest tally of votes in the counties which will determine the election.
He said ODM also expects to fight to get a sizeable slice of the Rift Valley vote and will be competitive in the Mt Kenya East counties of Meru, Embu and Tharaka Nithi.
Nairobi University lecturer Adams Oloo says the election is evenly poised. Like Prof Mitullah, Dr Oloo said the election would still revolve around the issue of ethnicity despite the fact it will be the first under the new Constitution.
“The Constitution is still young, and we haven’t de-ethnicised the presidency yet. All the presidential candidates come from the big five communities. That’s why candidates like Prof James ole Kiyiapi barely get noticed.”
Dr Oloo said Cord will frame the election around the question of which team can be trusted to faithfully implement the Constitution. They will also focus on the economy and the contention they can propel the country to a higher plane than witnessed in the Kibaki years. Historical injustices, too, he argued, will feature prominently.
The lecturer said the Jubilee Alliance is casting the election as a generational battle and portray themselves as a fresh alternative to their Cord rivals. They say they would be best placed to steer the economy, and Dr Oloo expects them to argue their team was made up of “performers”, borrowing from Mr Ruto’s campaign platform.
“Cord will go all out to lock in Western. Their argument will be that Mudavadi doesn’t stand a chance, and there is no need to waste votes on him. Jubilee will try to lock out Mt Kenya and Kalenjinland. I don’t expect a lot of fight in Luoland, where Cord will triumph. Kisii will be a battleground but I expect Cord to have an advantage there.”
He said the closeness of the race means every vote will be fought for.
“Ukambani is likely to go the Cord way but I expect Charity Ngilu will be dispatched by Jubilee to try and see what she can get, although I don’t expect her to be successful. There will be quite a battle in North Eastern Province.
“Neither side has very strong kingpins there. It will be an issue of who reaches the elders first. I expect a battle in Coast although Cord will have an advantage.
“Meru will be interesting and much will depend on which side the Alliance Party of Kenya backs. In Turkana and West Pokot, expect a close battle because both sides have strong point-men (Samuel Poghisio and Ekwee Ethuro for Jubilee and Josphat Nanok and John Munyes for Cord).”