Not just for the numbers: How Rigathi, Karua will shape race to State House

Martha Karua

Martha Karua (left) and Rigathi Gachagua.

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

The naming of Narc-K leader Martha Karua and Mathira MP Rigathi Gachagua as Azimio la Umoja One Kenya coalition and Kenya Kwanza running mates respectively has changed the August presidential election matrix.

Analysts say the two bring a new angle to the tickets and amplify the critical role played by running mates in determining presidential poll outcomes.

A key factor is the capacity of the nominee to marshal votes from his or her constituency.

Also emerging as important is the presidential bearing of a running mate, in the event one becomes deputy president and has to step in for the Head of State — or even suitability as a successor.

The deputy president is a heartbeat from the presidency and takes over from the Head of State if the president is removed from, or dies in, office.

While unveiling Mr Gachagua as his running mate on Sunday, DP William Ruto described his deputy as a fantastic grassroots mobiliser and a disciplined and tireless political operator.

In order to appeal to his “hustler” base, he labeled the first-time lawmaker as a living example of a true hustler who rose from the hardship of the aftermath of freedom struggle to the pinnacle of professional, business and political success.

“He (Rigathi) is a fearless fighter for the right causes, and an indefatigable champion of the betrayed, persecuted, downtrodden, the despised, the ignored and the marginalised,” he said.

On the Azimio side, Raila’s supporters say hi picking a woman as a running mate was not just for the optics, but also to send a message that times have changed. A Tifa poll this week noted that the Odinga-Karua ticket has the support of 35 per cent of women while 32 per cent back Dr Ruto and Mr Gachagua.

Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) Secretary General Edwin Sifuna said the results do not come as a surprise. Ms Karua, he said, has electrified the race because of her credentials as well as balancing of the gender equation. He added that she satiates the hunger of Mt Kenya to be part of the next government.

Mr Sifuna said the two complement each other as Ms Karua has a strong personality while Mr Raila Odinga is more laid back.

“I believe that is what has given us the sort of Baba and Mama wave being witnessed in the country. The record of the other side is not inspiring at all,” the Nairobi Senate seat aspirant told the Daily Nation.

Facing Mt Kenya, he said, is crucial because the region has a massive vote that cannot be ignored.

The Tifa opinion poll conducted on May 17, just a day after Mr Raila Odinga named Ms Karua his running mate, and two days after Deputy President William Ruto announced the Gachagua pick, was designed to show how the selection of running mates had impacted the race.

There, of course, were other factors that could impact the race, including changing loyalties based on campaign outcomes, as well as new voter biases.

The poll, released on Wednesday, put Mr Odinga ahead of Mr Ruto with 39 per cent against 35.

“Substantially, more Kenyans could name Mr Odinga’s running mate than Ruto’s, with the numbers standing at 85 per cent for Ms Karua and 59 for Mr Gachagua,” Tifa research analyst Tom Wolf said.

Mr Odinga’s support has increased by six per cent in Mt Kenya in a month, according to the poll. He was at 18 per cent in April but now polls at 24 per cent. In contrast, Mr Ruto’s support in the region dipped from 53 percent in April to 46 in the same period.

A Nation Media Group opinion poll early this month showed Mr Ruto leading in popularity in Mt Kenya with 60 per cent as Mr Odinga trailed at 22 per cent.

Signifying the importance of a running mate to the presidential equation, Mr Odinga’s support in lower Eastern (Machakos, Makueni and Kitui counties) fell from 41 per cent in April to 36 this month, according to two Tifa polls. This could be attributed to disagreement between Mr Odinga and his running mate in the 2013 and 2017 elections and Wiper Party leader Kalonzo Musyoka.

Mr Musyoka parted ways with Azimio to go it alone in the presidential race last week. Similarly, Mr Ruto’s popularity dipped in Lower Eastern from 28 per cent to 23 between April and May.

The pollster, however, said it is not clear if the changes are linked to the two candidates announcing their running mates.

Political analyst Nafula Kisiang’ani says that a running mate is important to a presidential ticket as the pick must be someone who complements the flag bearer and is also able to tilt voters to their side.

She says that, for instance, Azimio had been branded as a grouping of dynasties and non-reformists who are out to maintain the status quo because of the presence of President Kenyatta in the camp. However, the naming of Ms Karua as Mr Odinga’s running mate has brought with it a fresh perspective owing to her reform credentials.

On Kenya Kwanza, Ms Kisiang’ani says that in picking Mr Gachagua, Dr Ruto did not go for someone who complements him, but one who shares similar public perceptions.

The analyst argues that the two leading contenders have gone for names from Mt Kenya because of its numbers as well as boasting financial strength needed in sustaining a presidential campaign.

Although Ms Karua is not known for fabulous wealth, Mr Odinga is backed by a significant number of Mr Kenya tycoons who are happy with her selection.

“A significant number of ‘deep state’ operatives are from Mt Kenya and they have influence because they give conditions before funding anyone,” explains Ms Kisiangani. “We should also not forget that they are the current holders of power and having them on board is important to anyone who wants to become the president.”

In 2002 and 2007, even though the Constitution of Kenya then had no provision of a running mate elected together with the president, there were presumed running mates based on mutual agreement by presidential candidates that somehow influenced the results.

In 2002 for example, Mr Mwai Kibaki had Mr Michael ‘Kijana’ Wamalwa as his presumed running mate, while Mr Kenyatta had Amani National Congress (ANC) leader Musalia Mudavadi, then vice president on his side.

Both line-ups were expected to charm Western Kenya, which had substantive number of votes. The region ended up voting for Mr Kibaki, giving him victory at the third attempts, against outgoing President Moi’s handpicked successor, Uhuru Kenyatta. Mr Mudavadi’s even lost his Sabatia parliamentary seat.

In 2007, Mr Odinga had Mr Mudavadi on his side as the presumed deputy against President Kibaki, who had his incumbent Vice President Moody Awori, also from Western, appointed after Vice President Wamalwa died early in his term. Mr Odinga bagged the western Kenya, while Mr Awori even lost his Funyula MP seat.

In those days under the old Constitution contenders for president also had to secure parliamentary seats.

Mr Odinga would later in 2013 and 2017 under the new Constitution team up with President Kibaki’s 2007-2013 Vice President Kalonzo Musyoka; while President Kenyatta found success with Deputy President William Ruto by his side.

The two elections saw Odinga-Musyoka camp win the lower Eastern vote as a result of the ODM leader working with the Wiper leader while the Rift Valley bloc was comfortably delivered to President Kenyatta by Dr Ruto.