A lot at stake as Uhuru breaks with tradition, goes all out for votes

Sunday August 6 2017

President Uhuru Kenyatta and DP William Ruto shake hands during a rally at Afraha Stadium in Nakuru County on August 5, 2017. PHOTO | DPPS

President Uhuru Kenyatta (left) and Deputy President William Ruto shake hands during a rally at Afraha Stadium in Nakuru County on August 5, 2017. PHOTO | DPPS  

By OSCAR OBONYO
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The day of reckoning comes up for President Uhuru Kenyatta on Tuesday when he seeks a second term in office.

It is a race in which the incumbent hopes to shake off tough competition from the Opposition.  

That this poll means a lot to Mr Kenyatta, who is making a third appearance in the presidential race, is demonstrated by the spirited fight he and his running mate, Deputy President William Ruto, have put up over the last three months.

In June alone, the two reportedly held a record 200 rallies and in the last week-long sprint to the D-Day, they have held whistle-stop campaigns in at least three counties a day.  

There is no denying Kenyatta has executed a most vigorous and laborious campaign ever staged by an incumbent in Kenya’s electoral history.

While opponents in the rival National Super Alliance (Nasa) view the spirited campaigns as “desperate moves by a leader who has already lost ground”, the Jubilee Party leadership thinks otherwise.

TRAVERSE THE COUNTRY

“We are talking about a President who has decided to traverse the width and breadth of this country to meet his people and communicate to them directly.

The move has helped him to connect with the citizenry at the grassroots, and this has been great for our campaign,” explains Jubilee Party vice-chairman David Murathe.   

Kenyatta’s predecessors, including the founding President Jomo Kenyatta (the incumbent’s father), never engaged in elaborate presidential campaigns.

However, the second and third presidents, Daniel arap Moi and Mwai Kibaki, engaged in fairly competitive polls from 1992 after the reintroduction of multi-party politics.

But none of these campaigns compare to the intensity and personal output exhibited by the incumbent this time round.       

RIGOROUS CAMPAIGNS

Murathe attributes the rigorous campaigns by Jubilee not to any perceived threat from the Opposition, but commitment on the part of the President and his Deputy: “The two are comparatively younger, energetic campaigners.”

It is this human energy, says the Jubilee official, that has all along driven the Kenyatta campaign. 

Historian Prof Macharia Munene adds that the legacy of the President’s father is another factor that cannot be wished away.

Noting that the name of the founding father still resonates among senior citizens across the country, the don observes that the senior Kenyatta is politically revered, especially by communities in central Kenya.     

KANU ZONES

Coupled with the networks inherited or generated during his 11-year stint in the former ruling Kanu party, the younger Kenyatta has been able to easily reach out to regions that were traditionally regarded as Kanu zones. This explains why, for instance, his campaign in northern Kenya is doing fine.  

These are some of the likely reasons the President holds his head high up. In an interview with NTV’s Jane Ngoiri on Thursday while on the campaign trail in Meru and Kitui counties, the President exhibited confidence of defeating his challengers in the first round.

Asked whether his intensified campaign was an indication he faced a tough electoral battle, Mr Kenyatta explained he was only trying to make direct contact with as many Kenyans as possible ahead of the polls.

And the President does not contemplate the possibility of losing to his main challenger, Nasa’s Raila Odinga: “I am not going anywhere else as yet and I have no plans either of vying for presidency in 2022 because we are not losing this one,” he emphatically told Ngoiri, who had asked about the President’s plan in the event he loses.

STATE MACHINERY

Of the factors that work in favour of the Kenyatta campaign, incumbency is doubtlessly the strongest.

With the State machinery, resources and government officers at his disposal, the President kicked off the race ahead of the pack, that also includes former Cabinet ministers Joseph Nyagah and Cyrus Jirongo, constitutional lawyer Dr Ekuro Aukot, Prof Michael Wainaina, Abduba Dida and Dr Japheth Kavinga.

Besides appointing the referees of the contest, the chairman and commissioners of the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) as dictated by the Constitution after a vetting process by a select commission and relevant parliamentary committee, the President also appointed the Chief Justice, the judicial arbiter in the event of a poll petition.

These individuals are, however, officials of independent bodies.

The President has equally had the advantage of using his office to dish out goodies during this campaign period.

LAUNCH FERRY

Loans owed by coffee and tea farmers, fishermen and many other groups have been written off as a number of projects have been launched.

As late as Saturday, the last day of campaigns, the President was expected in Mombasa to officially launch a new ferry.

But incumbency is a double-edged sword, a factor that has partially disadvantaged the Kenyatta campaign.

While his competitors have only had to share their party manifestos to get their game going, as an incumbent Kenyatta’s campaign is under heavy scrutiny over his 2013 campaign pledges.

And opponents have not wasted time tearing into his performance including runaway corruption and high cost of living.

Pundits have speculated this is partly why the Jubilee candidate skipped the recent presidential debate organised by media houses. 

SKILLFUL PERSUASION

Nonetheless the Tuesday battle narrows down to numbers. And, over the last four-and-a-half years that he has been in office, Mr Kenyatta has used his influence or skilful persuasion to “eat into” opposition territory.

If the latest figures by various pollsters are anything to go by, then Jubilee has made substantial inroads in regions previously perceived as opposition strongholds.

The favourable figures for the Opposition in Rift Valley and Meru, Tharaka-Nithi counties in Eastern region, similarly point to an invasion of the Jubilee base by the Odinga team.

With support for frontrunners, Kenyatta and Odinga, split almost half way according to the 2013 poll results, the winner in the Tuesday poll will partly be determined by “who has eaten more into the other’s territory”.

CHANGE THE SCALES

In accordance with the 50-plus-one per cent electoral rule that gave Kenyatta victory last time, the runners-up’s (Odinga) votes were counted alongside those of all the candidates in order to arrive at a winner. 

“Musalia Mudavadi, for instance, has this time round joined forces with Mr Odinga, but that does not change the scales mathematically. In our projections, we regard them (Raila and Mudavadi) as opponents just the way we did in 2013 — and the figures remain favourable to us,” says Murathe.

However, Tuesday offers the freshest and all-important figures. A win for Kenyatta will secure him a favourable place in Kenya’s history. But a loss will totally upset the political career of the 55-year leader and that of his running mate Ruto.