Why it will not be politics as usual for 2013 aspirants

Monday August 20 2012

A Kenyan voter deposits his vote in a ballot box at a local polling station in the village of Kosachei in western Kenya on August 4, 2010. AFP PHOTO/Roberto SCHMIDT

AFP PHOTO/Roberto SCHMIDT/FILE A Kenyan votes at a polling station in the village of Kosachei in western Kenya on August 4, 2010.  AFP

By FRED OLUOCH [email protected] AND BERNARD NAMUNANE [email protected]

Presidential aspirants face the dilemma of defining issues in their campaigns ahead of the elections now that the delivery of the Constitution is out of the way.

Political pundits, MPs and pollsters are agreed that presidential aspirants have the task of carefully crafting their political messages to sway voters behind their bids.

They argue that the campaigns for the March 4, 2013 elections will be different since the issue of promising Kenyans a new Constitution, which has dominated the past four elections, has been eliminated.

With the coming into force of a devolved system of government, presidential aspirants have been denied some of the crowd pulling campaign platforms of yesteryears.

Recent opinion polls have shown voters will be looking for specifics as opposed to blanket statements of intent from aspirants.

Among the key issues Kenyans want addressed are youth unemployment, corruption, national reconciliation, ethnicity, national security, gender parity, food security, health care, taxation and the implementation of the new Constitution.

Dr Adams Oloo of the University of Nairobi’s Institute of Development Studies argues that the aspirants will be forced to face issues once they become candidates because currently everybody wants to run.

“Issues will emerge once the chaff is separated from the wheat. There will be pressure from the media, the electorate and the business community to state what they stand for. As of now, they can get away with it because none of them is sure of being a candidate,” he said.

Mr Victor Rateng, the manager in charge of opinion polls at IpsosSynovate, says that while ethnicity is still a factor, Kenyans have moved a step forward and are looking for individuals who can address bread-and-butter issues.

Mr Rateng says many respondents in their surveys base their preferences on leadership skills, charisma, corruption-free individuals and the ability to bring about change to their lives and their regions.

“One thing voters will be looking for is not just general statements that everybody can make, but whether those making policy statements have the ability and historical record to implement them,” he said.

Joint Government Chief Whip Johnstone Muthama argues that the issue of integrity of the presidential aspirants will also dominate the campaigns since the Constitution vetoes tainted leaders.

“The issue of integrity of leaders comes first and because the Constitution talks of leaders who have no blemishes. It has been there from the word go,” the Kangundo MP argues.

Eight petitioners

He refers to the case which has been filed in court by eight petitioners questioning the integrity of five leading presidential aspirants and warns that the issue will not go away.

“It is good that the five presidential candidates are before the courts and they come from different tribes,” he says.

Mr Muthama also states that implementation of the Constitution and policies which seek to assure Kenyans of food, a corrupt-free country and unity will dominate the campaigns.

“Kenyans will assess the policies of each candidate and decide which suits their interests,” he says.

Prof Larry Gumbe, a member of the ODM think-tank, argues that the campaigns will be premised on reform agenda pitting reformers against non-reformers.

He advances that delivery of the Constitution was just part of reforms which have to pull Kenyans out of “backwardness” and place them on the path to recovery.

“The big issue will be on reforms. The new Constitution was just part of it and we need reformers to achieve the target,” he states.

He also mentions the urgency of rebuilding the economy through advanced infrastructure and implementing devolution as other issues that will dominate the presidential campaigns.

“You can already see there are people who are trying to dilute devolution by appointing county commissioners who must be stopped,” he says.

Social media, Facebook and Twitter have become the forum for the aspirants to pass messages on what they believe in, but not all of them have embraced this outlet.

Aspirants such as Martha Karua, Raphael Tuju and Peter Kenneth, are the most active in the social media, which have given them an opportunity to the public to interrogate them on various social issues.