It’s D-Day in what is expected to be a tightly contested presidential election as Deputy President William Ruto faces veteran opposition politician Raila Odinga.
Dr Ruto, deputised by Mathira MP Rigathi Gachagua, is making his first stab at the top seat and hopes to rise against all odds to capture the presidency.
He has weathered through many political storms that have seen majority of his allies purged by the ruling party Jubilee from various parliamentary positions after falling out with President Uhuru Kenyatta, who has placed his bet on Mr Odinga and his running mate Martha Karua of the Azimio la Umoja coalition.
Mr Odinga is on his fifth, and likely final, stab at the highest office in the land after unsuccessful attempts in 1997, 2007, 2013 and 2017.
Final opinion polls before the elections released last week placed Mr Odinga ahead of Dr Ruto, but the DP has dismissed the numbers as fake.
Other candidates in the race to State House are Roots party candidate George Wajackoyah and running mate Justina Wambui, who have premised their campaigns on legalisation of cannabis, and Mr David Mwaure Waihiga deputised by Ruth Mucheru on the Agano Party ticket.
The two, however, hardly register a blip on any opinion polls, leaving it a two-horse race between Dr Ruto and Mr Odinga.
Some 22,120,458 voters spread across the 290 constituencies and 46,229 polling centres are registered to vote in an election that has seen the highest number of candidates since independence.
Four presidential candidates is the smallest number since the return of the multiparty system in 1992, but there are a record 2,132 aspirants eyeing the 290 National Assembly seats and another 12,994 seeking the 1,450 County Assembly (MCA) positions.
Some 340 candidates have been cleared to vie for 47 Senate seats, with 266 seeking gubernatorial positions in the 47 counties, and another 359 eyeing the 47 Woman Representative seats in the National Assembly.
Meanwhile, the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) in the run up to the polls suspended elections in four MCA seats following the deaths of candidates.
The four wards are South Gem (Gem constituency) in Siaya County, Kyome/Thaana (Mwingi West constituency) in Kitui County, Oloimasani (Emurua Dikirr constituency) in Narok County and Utawala (Embakasi East constituency) in Nairobi County.
Today’s elections follow intense campaigns featuring the two front runners for the presidency going hammer and tongs at each other.
The transitional election is vital as it ushers in a new era, with President Kenyatta concluding his second and final term, but unlike his predecessor Mwai Kibaki, he is heavily rooting for his preferred candidate, Mr Odinga, much to the chagrin of the Ruto camp.
Dr Ruto argues that already the political contest has been framed and the choices are clear.
“Kenyans want a political system that is citizen-centred, not one rigged to benefit a few. They want an economic system that seeks prosperity, increases incomes, creates jobs and eliminates inequality,” says Dr Ruto.
He points out that all that Kenyans want is “an end to the culture of deceit, of fraudulent political deal-making, opportunistic configurations, corruption and State Capture in pursuit of selfish gain.”
On the other hand, Mr Odinga, who boasts of his credentials in the fight for the second liberation and the new constitutional dispensation, holds that Dr Ruto’s camp have nothing to show and does not deserve to be in the country’s top leadership.
He argues that, together with his running mate Karua, Kenyans will have a complete army to fight for them and the country.
A better Kenya
“There is no known fight to make Kenya a better place that has been led by the people on the other side. The fighters for a better Kenya are on this side,” Mr Odinga said at the end of his campaign rallies on Saturday.
He went on: “Wangari and Amolo are not simply running to win an election. We are running to make Kenya a first-class global democracy and economy. We are running to build a Kenya of hope and opportunity; a Kenya not of 45 individual tribes but one big Kenyan tribe.”
The Kenyatta succession has been characterised by a lot of political intrigues, culminating in this unique political contest—the bromance between the President and Dr Ruto having collapsed with an acrimonious fallout; and Mr Odinga and President Kenyatta, who viciously fought in the last two general elections, joining forces against the DP.
The Ruto strategy was characterised not just as a campaign against Mr Odinga, but one against President Kenyatta who they claim wants to extend his rule through a proxy.
Unlike President Kibaki who never openly campaigned in 2013, President Kenyatta is not holding back his support for Mr Odinga, and has even taken position as chairman of the Azimio Council, signalling that he might want political influence after leaving office.
Former President Daniel Moi, who had ruled for 24 years, endorsed and unsuccessfully campaigned for Mr Kenyatta in the 2002 presidential election that was won by Mr Kibaki.
Dr Ruto is a two-term Deputy President long associated with status quo politics, but is running on the change platform, projecting himself as the one who will seize power from the Kenyatta, Moi and Odinga dynasties and restore it to the ‘Hustler Nation’.
Mr Odinga is a long-time champion of liberation politics, including the fight for multipartyism and the new progressive Constitution, and campaigns for economic inclusion, but finds himself in the unusual position of establishment candidate and defender of the Jubilee record.
A win for Dr Ruto, therefore, could mean a significant change in the political landscape as the big families that have dominated the country politically could be staring at being swept away by the ‘hustler’ wave associated with Dr Ruto.
A win for Mr Odinga, on the other hand, would be reward for a lifetime of protest politics, struggles against dictatorship and campaigns for a just economic and social order.
It would also strike a blow for gender equity, placing Ms Karua as the first ever woman in the country to rise to such a position since independence, and probably in the driving seat in the race for the next presidency.
Several gubernatorial candidates have also nominated women as their running mates, meaning there could be more women deputy governors this time since the advent of devolution in 2013.
With so much having happened from 2017, no matter the outcome, this election could be a turning point for the country.