How Wajackoyah, Waihiga run could impact August poll

Roots Party presidential candidate George Wajackoyah (left) and Agano Party presidential candidate David Waihiga.

Roots Party presidential candidate George Wajackoyah (left) and Agano Party presidential candidate David Waihiga.

Photo credit: Pool

If the chatter in bars, streets, marketplaces and anywhere else people gather for political gossip is anything to go by, the presidential election in August could be set for a ‘Wajackoyah moment’.

While neither of the underdogs in the presidential race – George Wajackoyah of the Roots Party and David Waihiga of Agano Party – stand the remotest chance of scooping the top prize, one or both of them jointly winning just a tiny fraction of the vote could have a profound impact that hands the presidency to either Dr William Ruto of Kenya Kwanza Alliance or Raila Odinga of Azimio la Umoja One Kenya Coalition.

According to most opinion polls, the two are presently at dead heat sharing about 80 per cent of the vote, with the rest undecided. Whoever leads at any time is usually within the margin of error.

If the undecided are taken out of the equation or shared equally, Dr Ruto and Mr Odinga will approach the polls sharing roughly 50 per cent of the vote each. An exact dead heat from some 18 million votes cast is a statistical impossibility, so whoever emerges ahead even by just one vote will cross the 50 per cent threshold, and achieve a victory in the first round.

A first-round victory, however, will not happen if Mr Wajackoyah and Mr Waihiga secure enough votes to deny both Dr Ruto and Mr Odinga the magic 50 per cent plus one number, and thus force a run-off.

Another scenario is that one or both of them does enough to ‘steal’ a portion of the vote that would otherwise have gone to either of the main candidates, thus handing victory to the other. Both have factors that might well make them worth watching.

So far Mr Wajackoyah is garnering all the attention. His outlandish campaign platform, particularly his promise to legalise the growing and consumption of marijuana, his dress style, his media appearances, make him the alternate candidate who might be worth watching.

He might be the Abduda Dida of 2022 – in reference to the 2013 candidate who attracted attention with quirky home-spun philosophies – who became a magnet for the undecided and the protest votes tired of politics as usual.

His controversial proposals on marijuana could also attract the underclass, the angry and disaffected young men, both in rural and urban Kenya, who might see in him a kindred spirit. Mr Wajackoyah could well attract some votes from the real hustlers, to the detriment of the Ruto campaign that has long styled itself as the ‘Hustler Nation’.

As for Mr Waihiga, it is difficult to see where he might make an impact until he actually goes out on the hustings and articulates what he stands for. His anonymity makes him hard to read and so far there is little to call attention to his quest for the presidency. One thing that cannot be ignored, however, is that he is the only candidate from a populous community that since the return of multi-party politics has always voted solidly for its own.

The exit of President Uhuru Kenyatta and lack of a successor from his backyard has left a void in Mt Kenya politics that might suggest the biggest voting bloc in Kenya is up for grabs. That floating vote, to President Kenyatta’s consternation, has trooped solidly to his estranged deputy.

In 2013 and 2017, about 97 per cent of the Mt Kenya vote went to the Uhuru-Ruto duo. Despite the President now spurning his deputy and throwing his weight behind erstwhile foe Mr Odinga, his base has refused to move with him.

Dr Ruto now commands an estimated 80 per cent of the Mt Kenya vote, with Mr Odinga having made great inroads from three per cent to the 20’s, but still needing more to improve his national tally and also compensate for the vote he has lost to his rival in the Western, Coast and Lower Eastern strongholds.

In the run-up the elections, a large slate of Mt Kenya politicians declared for presidency hoping to fill the vacuum, or at least place themselves in bargaining positions.

Some, like National Assembly Speaker Justin Muturi, former Agriculture Cabinet Secretary Mwangi Kiunjuri, former Kiambu governor William Kabogo and Gatundu South MP Moses Kuria, eventually dropped their bids and negotiated themselves into Dr Ruto’s Kenya Kwanza team.

Others like Murang’a Governor Mwangi wa Iria and businessman Jimmy Wanjigi, the only who actually seemed serious in their bids, however, fell at the early hurdle when they could not even fulfil the legal requirements to be on the ballot. That left the virtually unknown Mr Waihiga as the last man standing on the Mt Kenya slate.

Whether he can win anything substantial of the Mt Kenya vote is, however, highly doubtful, unless he shows his face and also projects himself as a realistic prospect for community leadership. That will be a tall order.

Meanwhile, a look back at the impact of minor-party candidates at previous elections could be instructive. At the last election in August 2017, President Kenyatta on the Jubilee ticket and Mr Odinga for National Super Alliance (Nasa) hogged 99.11 per cent of the vote between them, 54.17 per cent and 44.94 per cent, respectively.

The rest of the vote, 0.8 per cent, was shared between six also-rans, former Cabinet minister Joe Nyagah and schoolteacher Abduba Dida, who caught attention at the 2013 presidential debates, leading the pack with 0.25 per cent each.

Next was former Constitution review chief Ekuro Aukot with 0.18 per cent, followed by Mr Japheth Kaluya, Youth for Kanu ’92 boss Cyrus Jirongo and Mr Michael Wainaina, all under 0.1 per cent.

Then came the repeat election in October the same year after President Kenyatta’s election victory was annulled by the Supreme Court. Mr Odinga boycotted the repeat poll, citing failure of the Independent Election and Boundaries Commission to fix the flaws identified by the court, leaving the President to be re-elected virtually unopposed with 98.26 per cent of the vote.

But as he pulled out when his name was already on the ballot paper, Mr Odinga still emerged second, with 0.96 per cent of the vote, giving the two top foes 99.22 per cent. The other six candidates shared the rest, together getting less than the number of spoilt votes.

The pattern was the same in 2013. President Kenyatta won with 50.51 per cent, followed by Mr Odinga with 43.70 per cent for the two to have a combined 94.21 per cent of the vote. The difference in 2013 was a relatively significant third-party candidate in former Vice President Musalia Mudavadi, who was best of the rest with 3.96 per cent.

The other five candidates, Peter Kenneth, Dida, Martha Karua, James Kiyiapi and Paul Muite, shared the rest of the vote in that order.

Significant in that result was that Mr Kenyatta was just a mere 8,000 votes above the 50 per cent threshold, a number that could easily be surpassed by Mr Wajackoyah and Mr Waihiga if they do enough to attract a sizeable protest vote.

Previous elections under the old constitution did not have the 50 per cent plus one rule, but still displayed the same dynamic in terms of the impact third-party candidates can have. In 1992 and 1997, President Daniel arap Moi relied on the split opposition to romp back to power.

Kenneth Matiba, Mwai Kibaki and Oginga Odinga in 1992 shared a strong opposition vote, and the same scenario was repeated in 1997 between Kibaki, Odinga, Michael Wamalwa and Charity Ngilu.

Mr Wajackoyah and Mr Waihiga will not have anywhere near the same impact, but all they need is to jointly get something in the region of 50,000 votes, and that will be enough to tilt the balance.

The latter has generated the most excitement so far and earned invaluable name-recognition that should translate votes, and the latter might well win a few votes from a Mt Kenya region accustomed to voting only for the familiar.

They are the underdogs, but they could decide the race.