Amani National Congress (ANC) leader Musalia Mudavadi and his Narc Kenya colleague Martha Karua are the most preferred running mates for Deputy President William Ruto and his main challenger Raila Odinga, respectively, according to a Nation Media Group opinion poll.
The survey conducted by Infotrak Research last week shows Ms Karua, who was among the 11 people a panel formed by Azimio la Umoja One Kenya Coalition interviewed for the job, has a 41 per cent approval rating among those who will vote for Mr Odinga.
Wiper Party chief Kalonzo Musyoka, who insists he is the best person to deputise Mr Odinga having been his running mate in 2013 and 2017, comes a distant second at 27 per cent.
Mr Musyoka, who served as President Mwai Kibaki’s deputy from 2008 to 2013, has been running a loud campaign to be named Mr Odinga’s running mate for the third time in a row, threatening to decamp or go it alone.
Should Ms Karua be chosen and Azimio emerges victorious, she will be Kenya’s first woman deputy president.
From Dr Ruto’s supporters, Mr Mudavadi emerging the most favoured running mate is a plus for a man who holds the record of being Kenya’s shortest-serving vice president at 56 days.
He tops the poll at 19 per cent, followed by Tharaka Nithi Senator Kithure Kindiki at 14 per cent.
The legal scholar who joined Dr Ruto’s camp, armed with a PhD in international law and consulting for the UN, has been touted as a reasonable and moderate voice of contenders from Mt Kenya.
Having served as Senate majority leader and later deputy speaker, Prof Kindiki has lately taken a significant role in Dr Ruto’s campaign, leading the management of the primaries as well as Kenya Kwanza Alliance deals where he signed on behalf of the DP.
The Kenya Kwanza poll, significantly, had a massive 30 per cent of voters undecided. Mr Mudavadi emerging as the favourite is interesting, considering that he is from Western Kenya, and abandoned Azimio to join the Ruto camp when it already appeared committed to selecting a running mate from Mt Kenya.
Since the poll was conducted, it has emerged that he has cut a deal to be named a “premier” Cabinet Secretary in a Ruto government, a position that would make him more powerful than the deputy president.
Kirinyaga Governor Anne Waiguru comes third favourite from Dr Ruto’s supporters at 13 per cent, followed by National Assembly Speaker Justin Muturi (nine per cent), Mathira MP Rigathi Gachagua (eight per cent) and Kiharu MP Ndindi Nyoro, whose star has been rising fast in the campaign, with four per cent.
Nakuru Senator Susan Kihika and Kandara MP Alice Wahome are tied at one per cent.
The running mate poll results could upset regional equations in both camps.
While Mr Musyoka has been demanding the seat as a condition for rallying his supporters behind Mr Odinga, Kenya Kwanza team has also been putting a great importance on a running mate from Mt Kenya.
Indeed President Uhuru Kenyatta is reported to have got his Jubilee Party into backing Mr Odinga’s State House bid on condition that the region gets the running mate slot.
The names put forward by Jubilee for consideration were from Mt Kenya, with former Gatanga MP Peter Kenneth coming a distant third at 10 per cent.
Surprise hopeful Sabina Chege, the Murang’a Woman Representative, is at three per cent.
Mt Kenya – comprising counties of Central, those in Mt Kenya East in the former Eastern province as well as Laikipia and Nakuru counties,– has become arguably Kenya’s richest vote bloc not banked to one candidate, since the advent of multi-party elections.
While Dr Ruto is seen, and confirmed by the Nation poll which gives him 60 per cent of the Central Kenya vote to Mr Odinga’s 22 as having control of the mountain, the entry of Ms Karua into the fray – an experienced politician with a significant national image – has excited strategists in Azimio. Three in five of Mr Odinga’s supporters from Central Kenya have already bought into this, with 60 per cent saying Ms Karua is the best person to take over at Harambee House Annex.
In Central, Mr Musyoka is at 12 per cent, while pundits’ favourite Peter Kenneth had a paltry four. Those that back him cite his apparent acceptability across the coalition, and the place of Murang’a in the push for running mate.
Murang’a, with 600,000 voters, argues that if this is the time for Mt Kenya, then the county must be at the front. As if to confirm this, Jubilee named Mr Kenneth and Ms Chege the choices for Mr Odinga’s running mate.
Ms Karua’s fortunes and the love by Kenyans for her to take the seat extends to Mr Odinga’s Nyanza backyard, where 42 per cent of the residents there think she should get the position. In fact, she leads in all regions except Mr Musyoka’s Eastern where the Wiper Party boss has a 57 per cent approval, while Ms Karua comes second at 20 per cent.
She leads in Nairobi with 51 per cent, 48 per cent in the Rift Valley, 31 in North Eastern, and 34 per cent in the Coast.
Ms Karua has packaged herself as the best fit for Mr Odinga, citing her record in public service, a champion of reforms as well as an anti-corruption crusader.
The biggest headache, and on which the Azimio la Umoja One Kenya presidential campaigns seem to rest, is what failing to name Mr Musyoka the number two would mean.
In 2017, the Raila-Kalonzo team dominated Lower Eastern with 83 per cent (968,437 votes) to 15 per cent (174,579) for President Kenyatta and DP Ruto.
Having threatened to boycott a date with the Azimio interviewing committee, arguing that it was humiliating to subject him to the process, Mr Musyoka later showed up.
The Wiper leader insists that his experience as vice president and having been Mr Odinga’s running mate in two times should not be ignored.
In fact, Mr Musyoka and his allies say Mr Odinga will lose the presidential election is he is not the Azimio running mate.
In going for Mt Kenya, where President still has a following, Mr Odinga has to contend with what it would mean to the more than 1.5 million votes in Kitui, Machakos and Makueni counties.
Already, some Azimio strategists have floated the idea of a chief minister post – whose work will be supervising the implementation of projects in Cabinet – for Mr Musyoka.
Whether that will appease him enough not to rock the boat from within remains to be seen.
A total of 87 per cent of Mr Musyoka’s Wiper supporters want him named the running mate, the single highest percentage in terms of a political outfit.
Pointedly, 10 per cent of his backers say they will not vote for Mr Odinga if their man is not named the running mate, compared to two per cent and below for the rest.
Ms Karua polled 70 per cent for Jubilee supporters and 41 for Mr Odinga’s Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) while Mr Musyoka had three and 26 per cent, respectively.
For Dr Ruto, it seems, the battle is in Mt Kenya, even with Mr Mudavadi leading in the national average.
When narrowed down to Mt Kenya supporters, Ms Waiguru leaps ahead of Mr Mudavadi and Prof Kindiki, polling 16 per cent while the others have nine and 12 per cent, respectively.
It is a delicate balancing act. For Dr Ruto to hit the 50 per cent plus one voter mark in the August 9 election, he has to inherit the full constituency that catapulted his partnership with Mr Kenyatta to two terms in office.
Mt Kenya in the two polls gave the pair slightly more than half of the total votes received.
There is also the place of the Mt Kenya West-Mt Kenya East politics and what that means should the DP decide to pick from the mountain, but choose from Meru, Embu or Tharaka Nithi counties.
From the larger Eastern province, which includes Mt Kenya East, Prof Kindiki has a double digit advantage at 28 per cent, ahead of Mr Mudavadi’s 13.
In Dr Ruto’s Rift Valley backyard, Mr Mudavadi has a slight edge over Prof Kindiki at 19 per cent against 12.
But it is in the staggering 30 per cent who said “I do not know”, that Dr Ruto has his biggest headache. The highest number of undecided are in Central, Rift Valley, Eastern, North Eastern and Coast, all polling above the 32 per cent mark.
In Nairobi, where Mr Mudavadi has a double-digit advantage at 30 per cent against Prof Kindiki’s 14 per cent and Ms Waiguru’s 13 per cent, the undecided are at the lowest, at 14 per cent.