Mudavadi forces Raila Uhuru to rethink their poll strategies

What you need to know:

  • Solid support from Western Kenya will deny the Cord coalition crucial votes
  • The DPM is exciting sections of Rift Valley which is perceived to be a Jubilee stronghold
  • UDF team wooing Kiraitu Murungi for running mate post with eyes on Meru vote

Deputy Prime Minister Musalia Mudavadi’s official entry into the race for the presidency has sent strategists for the two leading alliances in the race back to the drawing board.

Mr Mudavadi’s candidature may raise the prospects of a run-off if he wins enough support to deny the leading candidates the votes they would need to wrap up victory in the first round.

This possibility will be especially strong if Mr Mudavadi manages to secure solid support in his Western province backyard.

The Coalition for Reform and Democracy (Cord) candidate Mr Raila Odinga has been viewed as a strong contender for the numerous Luhya vote, and he will now be forced to vie for those votes against Mr Mudavadi.

Some analysts also expect Mr Mudavadi to challenge Jubilee running mate William Ruto’s United Republican Party (URP) in its Rift Valley turf. Mr Ruto is backing Jubilee Alliance candidate Uhuru Kenyatta’s presidential bid.

In an effort to reinforce his credentials as a serious candidate, Mr Mudavadi’s team has sent out feelers to Energy minister Kiraitu Murungi with an offer of the running mate position.

Mr Murungi told the Sunday Nation he had received representatives of the United Democratic Front candidate, who made the offer but he said he had not made up his mind.

“I have been approached by emissaries at a personal level. I don’t have a yes or no answer for now, but I’m turning it over in my head. I will wait to have a sitting with Musalia himself before I can decide. The (Alliance Party of Kenya) party position remains that we are not supporting any presidential candidate.”

Another candidate who has been mentioned as a possible running mate for Mr Mudavadi is former Cherangany MP Kipruto arap Kirwa.

Mr Mudavadi’s candidature will pose a headache for the Jubilee Alliance because their team has been working on a plan that envisions a victory in the first round which would neutralise the fact that Jubilee leaders, Mr Kenyatta and Mr Ruto, have been summoned to appear in The Hague during the interval leading to an eventual run-off.

Mr Odinga will also see Mr Mudavadi’s candidature as posing a major challenge because he had been banking on securing a solid Western Kenya vote bloc to counter the Jubilee Alliance numbers in Mt Kenya and Rift Valley.

However, some analysts say Mr Mudavadi’s efforts to position himself as a strong force may not succeed.

Dr Adams Oloo, a political science lecturer at the University of Nairobi, said Mr Mudavadi had only received so much attention in the early days of the campaign because many voters thought Mr Kenyatta and Mr Ruto were going to support him. This has since changed.

“If you look at those who have tried before like Michael Wamalwa in 1997, Simeon Nyachae in 2002 and Kalonzo Musyoka in 2007, they managed to galvanise their entire communities but still failed to make an impression. Mr Mudavadi has failed to galvanise his entire community since not many MPs have defected since he left ODM,” said Dr Oloo.

In a bid to rally home support for his bid, Mr Mudavadi will be in Bungoma on Sunday at the invitation of Saboti MP Eugene Wamalwa who has stepped down in his favour.

His Amani coalition will also aim to amass numbers in the Kalenjin community using pointmen like Mr Kirwa, Mr Gideon Moi, Mr Nick Salat, Mr Nicholas Biwott and former PS John Lonyangapuo, who is running for the West Pokot senatorial seat.

“As things unfold, you will understand why they (TNA and URP) did not want us in the coalition. We will give them a run for their money,” said Mr Salat.

Mr Mudavadi is hoping to position himself as a moderate leader who can appeal across the ethnic divide.

His campaign’s main target areas are Nairobi, Western and Rift Valley provinces. His earlier extensive tour of Central Province was pegged on the possibility that Mr Kenyatta would not run.

Since Mr Mudavadi has taken a cautious approach throughout his career, the question now is whether he is capable of galvanising western Kenya and the rest of the country to rally behind UDF at the expense of other presidential candidates who started off earlier.

Dr Amukoa Anangwe, a political science lecturer at the University of Dodoma, argues that most Kenyans do not understand Mr Mudavadi, who, he says, has two faces.

There is the generally known dove image of a gentle and laid-back politician that is far removed from the belligerent approach common to Kenyan politicians.

Then there is the second face, according to Dr Anangwe, that can deliver blows to his opponents quite ruthlessly.

“I believe he has been portraying a misleading face, but what you have seen now is the real Mudavadi,” he said.

Those close to Mr Mudavadi say he has received the blessing of former President Daniel Moi to contest the presidency from the time he was in ODM. This support was made evident when Kanu joined the Amani alliance and the younger Moi delivered an endorsement speech.

But the challenge still remains how to cultivate a national appeal and shed the image of a “regional king”. A good number of MPs from Western Province have crossed over to his side, something he could not have managed a few months ago.

His critics believe that since entering Parliament in 1989 following the death of his father, Moses Mudavadi, the younger man has relied on State machinery that was provided by his mentor and former President Moi, to wield power and grow.

Still, the dynamics of Luhya politics are such that Mr Mudavadi cannot afford to take anything for granted. Voters in the Bukusu sub-tribe in Bungoma and Trans-Nzoia have proved since the re-introduction of political pluralism in 1991 that they always vote differently from the rest of the Luhyas in western Kenya.

In 1992, the Bukusu voted for Jaramogi Oginga Odinga while the rest of western Kenyan voted for mainly Ford Asili and Kanu. In 2007, the Bukusu voted for PNU while the rest of the Luhya voted for ODM.

Prior to the current alliances, the Bukusu were warming up to Mr Wamalwa, but since the minister for Justice is no longer running for the presidency, the Bungoma votes may be up for grabs.

Cord will be reaching out to Bungoma through Trade minister Moses Wetang’ula, one of the coalition’s three principals and a candidate for Senate.

The coming together of Mr Mudavadi and Mr Wamalwa is meant to counter the possible influence of Mr Wetang’ula among the Bukusu.

In Western, Mr Mudavadi’s main support comes from Kakamega and Vihiga counties, but there is a strong presence of ODM in Emuhaya constituency.

In Busia, Mr Odinga has support that has nothing to do with Mr Mudavadi, even when he was in ODM, so it will be a tight fight for the Busia vote basket.

According to Dr Anangwe, Mr Mudavadi would have been a force to reckon with in Western Kenya had he got the Jubilee ticke, but he has lost some support since he was locked out of that alliance.

Yet, according to the MP for Hamisi, Mr George Khaniri, Mr Mudavadi will surprise those who believe the Luhya Nation can never unite.

In Rift Valley, Mr Mudavadi has the benefit of teaming up with Kanu, which hopes to revive its old networks and give the Amani coalition an advantage in the region.