Running mate choice could break dead heat in favour of either Raila or Ruto

Raila Ruto running mate choices

Word has it that the Azimio panel interviewing candidates to be considered for the position of Raila Odinga's running mate has settled on three names: Martha Karua, Peter Kenneth and Kalonzo Musyoka.

It will be Raila's onus to select one name from the trio, although Azimio executive director Raphael Tuju has said the Azimio flagbearer is not obliged to stick to the shortlist.

Public polls favour Karua, by a wide margin. But let's first correct one thing the media has been getting wrong. Karua is not the first prospective female Deputy President in Kenya. That distinction goes to veteran Busia politician Julia Ojiambo, who paired with Kalonzo when he ran for president in 2007 under the ODM-K banner.

If either Karua or Kalonzo is picked, the unheralded fact is that the Azimio presidential candidate and running mate line-up will leave out Jubilee, which considers itself an "anchor" party of the Azimio coalition. The presidential candidate is from ODM. The running mate will be either from Narc-Kenya (Karua) or Wiper (in case Kalonzo is selected). This has been a matter of no minor soul-searching among Jubilee bigwigs. Nonetheless, the complex dynamics of the disparate coalition had to dictate the line-up.

Ukambani votes

If ever there was going to be a difficult political decision, this is it. Kalonzo wangles two million (supposedly) locked-in Ukambani votes. Wiper has warned he will run independently if he is bypassed. Kenneth brings good personal chemistry with the presidential candidate. Frankly, the personal chemistry between Raila and Kalonzo has never gelled even when they ran together in 2013 and 2017. Not that with Karua it automatically will. However, the circumstances of 2022 are completely different from before.

If Karua is chosen, she will inevitably come under enormous pressure to deliver for Azimio the Gema vote. Paradoxically, she's never much played ethnic politics on the national stage. She will indeed find herself in unfamiliar territory. As for Kalonzo, that's a role he is not new to, having been the long-time Kamba political eminence.

Kenya Kwanza Alliance (KKA) were set to name their running mate yesterday. The selection process there was rather opaque. Public opinion favoured Musalia Mudavadi, who is better known and more experienced compared to the other claimants. Or would William Ruto reply to Karua being picked by Azimio by naming a woman too, say Kirinyaga Governor Anne Waiguru, who has been openly salivating for the job? There's the Mt Kenya question, with several other candidates like Speaker of the National Assembly Justin Muturi, Tharaka-Nithi Senator Kithure Kindiki and Mathira MP and Rigathi Gachagua also angling to be Ruto's running mate.

30 per cent deal

Meanwhile, trouble is brewing in KKA. Kiambu governor aspirant William Kabogo has raised the alarm over what appears to be a raw deal for Mt Kenya. Assurances given to Mudavadi's Western brigade give him more plum jobs. Actually he and Moses Wetang'ula have been touting a 30 per cent share in a Ruto government. Central Kenya largely banks on an amorphous Deputy Presidency slot. The offer of a "prime cabinet secretary" (to Mudavadi) is but a backdoor resurrection of the BBI, which UDA had vehemently opposed! Besides, the proposed office will leave the DP portfolio neutered.

The problem with the Mt Kenya lot is that they never took the trouble to negotiate their stake in UDA prudently. Nor, apparently, did they bother to scrutinise the KKA coalition documents diligently. Unlike Mudavadi and Wetang'ula, they had no leverage as the majority of them jumped blindly into UDA with no party they could call their own. They were told in UDA positions didn't matter. They are now waking up to the realisation they were duped.

Ultimately, elections are decided not just by the strength of the players a coalition has. In the end victory is through the quality of the game the players put on. One big blunder, or a series of them, and the game is lost. Azimio has been compared to a talented orchestra without a conductor. Stars are galore there, but often they are playing their own tunes without a coordinating hand. KKA in contrast is more close knit.

Youthful energy

Many other intangibles come into play. Will Raila keep up with Ruto's youthful energy? What will be the effectiveness of the messaging the competing formations will employ? As a consequence, which side will bring out more of its voters to the polling booths? Are there big scandals and other minefields that will explode and disfigure – or even sink – one or the other coalition?

One of the biggest imponderables is what the choice of running mate will bring. Will it boost a formation? Or will it fritter support in regions that feel aggrieved? That could turn out to be inevitable, but to what extent will the discontent determine the final outcome? Suppose, say, Kalonzo and Mudavadi are not picked by their respective coalitions? How will Ukambani and Western react? Which coalition stands to lose more? And suppose Azimio opts to pick Kalonzo? And KKA does the same with Mudavadi? What will the level of fallout in Mt Kenya region be? Who will be hurt more – Azimio or KKA?

Last week, the Daily Nation published a poll showing Raila and Ruto in a dead heat – 42 per cent each – if the election was held today. Essentially it means none of them can cross the threshold of 50 per cent-plus-one and win outright in the first round. All the more reason each gets a running mate who will help them scale the threshold. That is how critically important their choices will be.

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