Anxiety, expectations hit Ruto, Raila camps as campaigns end

Raila Odinga and William Ruto

Azimio candidate Raila Odinga (left) and Kenya Kwanza's William Ruto during their final campaign rallies on August 6, 2022.

The official campaign period ended yesterday in the face of a surging anxiety and expectations within the two main camps of Deputy President William Ruto and Azimio candidate Raila Odinga.

Kenya Kwanza of Deputy President Ruto and Azimio la Umoja One Kenya of Mr Odinga have each projected a win amid swirling claims of a plot to rig the August 9 polls.

The two camps have made major investment in the campaigns by holding hundreds of rallies across the country, splashing hundreds of millions of shillings in hiring helicopters and high-end vehicles, dishing out cash, printing campaign merchandise and dolling out government jobs to strategic regions to ring-fence them and counter opponents.

But after the two front-runners made their final submissions on Saturday, it will be upon the over 22 million voters to decide who succeeds President Uhuru Kenyatta.

Ruto, Raila facing off

Dr Ruto and Mr Odinga will be facing off for the first time in a presidential race, with Mr Kenyatta backing the latter, who was his main challenger in 2013 and 2017 general elections.

Interviews with political strategists and allies of the duo indicate some level of confidence in both camps, each highlighting their path to victory while downplaying opponent’s chances.

Latest opinion polls released this week by various firms have placed Mr Odinga ahead with a six to eight percentage gap. A poll commissioned by Nation Media Group placed Mr Odinga at 49 per cent approval rating, with DP Ruto at 41 per cent. Another poll by Ipsos handed Mr Odinga a seven-point lead over Mr Ruto at 47 to 41 per cent, while Infotrak polled Mr Odinga at 49 and Ruto at 42 per cent.

The two have been battling to retain their traditional bastions while making inroads in the opponent’s zone. Similarly, they have held campaigns in 13 counties considered as battlegrounds – based on the outcome of the past two elections – in an attempt to make them flip for either side.

Counties with great potential

The counties have a combined vote of 5.6 million that have a great potential in influencing the outcome.

Nairobi has 2.4 million voters, Tana River (141,096), Lamu (81,453), Garissa (201,473), Wajir (207,758), Marsabit (166,912), Turkana (238,528), West Pokot (220,026), Samburu (100,014), Narok (398,784), Kajiado (463,273), Kisii (637,010) and Nyamira (323,283).

They are considered as battlegrounds based on margins between Mr Kenyatta and Mr Odinga in the 2013 and 2017 polls. Opinion polls have, however, shown some shifts with both Dr Ruto and Mr Odinga gaining ground in some of them.

Final rallies

The two candidates lined up their final rallies in Nairobi Saturday in an attempt to sway voters.

DP Ruto’s United Democratic Alliance (UDA) economic advisor David Ndii has, however, dismissed the popularity surveys placing Mr Odinga ahead. Dr Ndii argues that the polls will be won largely by voter turnout in the respective bastions of the two.

He argues that Mr Odinga’s win can only be guaranteed if he retains his traditional support bases of Nyanza, Coast, Ukambani and Western and at the same time get about 30 per cent of Gema votes. He holds that Mr Odinga has lost ground in his backyards and may not compensate it with the votes he may get from Mt Kenya.

UDA secretary general Veronica Maina says DP Ruto has made significant inroads in areas that did not back Jubilee in the past two elections.

“We are actually having a better manifesto; our manifesto is focused on providing solutions to the issues affecting the common mwananchi. We also have a candidate who is believable and credible. He understands the challenges facing Kenyans and they can relate well with him,” says Ms Maina.

“We have made significant inroads in Western. The key leaders from the region are partners in Kenya Kwanza. Our running mate has been a subject of propaganda, but that has changed after the deputy presidential candidates’ debate.”

UDA strategies

Kimilili MP Didmus Barasa argues that most of the strategies they deployed in the campaigns, particularly the county economic forums, have greatly boosted their chances of clinching the top seat.

UDA Murang’a governor candidate Irungu Kang’ata says the alliance’s manifesto has captured the aspirations of most Kenyans. He claimed an attempt by President Kenyatta to slow down their campaigns by asking DP Ruto to focus on service delivery until the official campaign period was a “trick” that they defied.

“The messaging was apt and proper. It captured the aspirations of Kenyans in the midst of dwindling incomes and rising poverty,” says Mr Kang’ata.

But Jubilee vice chairman David Murathe describes the polls as a “Raila moment”, stating that all factors point to a decisive win in favour of Mr Odinga. He says the choice of Martha Karua and retention of Mr Kalonzo in the fold have secured the traditional bastions of Mr Odinga at the same time flipped Mt Kenya in his favour.

‘Mountain has flipped’

“Obviously, the mountain has flipped because of the choice of the running mate that energised the campaigns. Also, the President coming out strongly over his support for Raila is a great plus,” says Mr Murathe.

“Raila has never had the support of Mt Kenya. Our opponent (Ruto) had hypothesised his win on Mt Kenya. If this slips away, he remains only with Rift Valley.

“It is Baba’s moment. Mt Kenya has no candidate and there is a sense of insecurity. They need someone who can be a protector. It is no-brainer that that person is Karua.”

Going by the past voting patterns, Azimio officials say DP Ruto requires an overwhelming support from Rift Valley and Mt Kenya to secure a win just like Jubilee did in 2013 and 2017 polls. Scrutiny of the two previous polls show a huge voter turnout in the two regions at an average of over 85 per cent. This implies that any splitting of the bloc or voter apathy in either of the two regions could be costly to Dr Ruto’s bid.

Azimio claims that some of the regions that swept Mr Kenyatta and Dr Ruto into power in 2013 and 2017 have since shifted into battlegrounds as a result of their dramatic falling-out.

Certain of a win

Mr Odinga’s head of campaigns and Laikipia Governor Ndiritu Muriithi said the coalition is certain of a win, citing the positive reception for the Odinga-Karua ticket has got.

“We believe the choice of running mate has worked for us. We also believe that our decision to have some candidates drop out of the race also worked for us,” holds Mr Muriithi.

“We are certain of a win but unlike our competitors, who are full of bravado, we don’t want to start chest thumping before the results are out.”

Azimio candidate a brand

ODM chairman John Mbadi describes Azimio presidential candidate as a brand that is easy to sell to voters. He argues that DP Ruto’s decision to focus on attacking President Kenyatta has set him against his would-be supporters.

“Ruto also did not realise that people get tired of you when you say same things for long. He started campaigning too early. He outworked himself before the actual campaigns,” says Mbadi.

He says the coalition has succeeded in eating into Mr Ruto’s perceived support base.

“The 30 per cent we project to get from Gema is equivalent to about 1.5 million votes. In Northern Kenya, we had about 30 per cent in the last election, we are hitting about 60 per cent in this election.

“In Gusiiland, it was a close race between Raila and Uhuru in the previous two elections. In this election, we are projecting about 70 per cent in our favour,” he says.

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