The choice of running mates by the two presidential election frontrunners, William Ruto and Raila Odinga, has raised the stakes in the vote hunt in three key regions; and also introduced a gender card in the President Uhuru Kenyatta succession.
Ms Karua’s nomination has further brought into sharp focus the gender card and the quest for a big slice of half of the country’s voters – women.
There is also the restless Ukambani vote bloc, which will be keenly watched after former Vice-President Kalonzo Musyoka abandoned Mr Odinga to relaunch his presidential bid.
Also in the equation is the significant Western Kenya vote that both DP Ruto and Mr Odinga are aggressively wooing.
In 2017, the eight Mt Kenya counties collectively gave President Kenyatta 3.3 million votes, which accounted for 40 per cent of his national tally of 8.2 million (54.2 per cent).
If you slice off 30 per cent from the 3.3 million, it would translate to roughly 1 million votes taken from Dr Ruto and added to Mr Odinga’s basket. The 30 per cent is what Mr Odinga’s strategists hope the choice of Ms Karua as his running mate, coupled with the backing of President Kenyatta, will deliver to his presidential bid.
This is bad news for Dr Ruto, given Jubilee rode on these numbers to win in 2013 and 2017, having crossed the 50 per cent plus one mark in the former with a wafer thin margin of just 8,000 votes.
There is the argument that Dr Ruto must replicate this performance in Mt Kenya to maintain an edge, especially given the number of registered voters in the eight counties is now at 4.5 million.
Nakuru’s 1,050,367 (President Kenyatta’s 84.7 per cent against Mr Odinga’s 14.7 in 2017) and Laikipia’s 265,842 votes (President Kenyatta’s 89 per cent against Mr Odinga’s 10.3 per cent in 2017) are often lumped with the Mt Kenya counties.
Any slicing of this tally, therefore, not only dents the DP’s chances of getting to the UhuRuto numbers in the two previous polls, but also introduces the possibility of a run-off if Mr Musyoka gets enough votes to deny both the main candidates over 50 per cent of the vote.
The second part is the voter turnout factor.
Nyandarua, Nyeri, Kirinyaga, Murang’a, Kiambu, Meru, Tharaka-Nithi and Embu had an average voter turnout of 80 per cent in 2017. Were the voter turnout to dip, Dr Ruto’s chances at the job is further threatened.
To show how vital the region – which has shunned him in his last four presidential runs and is perceived to be solidly behind Dr Ruto, is to his presidential quest – Mr Odinga not only has Ms Karua as a running mate, but has also promised to retain Agriculture Cabinet Secretary Peter Munya in his docket and appoint him the chairman of the Kenya Productive Sector should he form the next government.
With Meru Governor Kiraitu Murungi blowing hot and cold and other leaders from Mt Kenya East coalescing around Dr Ruto’s Kenya Kwanza, Mr Munya, a former Meru governor himself, is seen as a vital cog in Mr Odinga’s camp.
In the 2013 elections, President Kenyatta garnered 1,895,075 votes to Mr Odinga’s paltry 84,010 in Meru, Tharaka-Nithi and Embu. This vote pattern was replicated in the 2017 elections.
Mr Odinga is betting on Ms Karua’s national appeal, and her being the first woman deputy president candidate of a major party, to garner votes.
Ms Karua ran for presidency in 2013, as did Kitui Governor Charity Ngilu in 1997, but both were outsiders with little prospect of victory. Ms Karua as running mate in a party with good chances of victory has excited the women base, which might well swing critical votes to Azimio.
The importance of gender cannot be gainsaid, and the Ruto campaign is aware of this as evidenced by his own counter to the Karua nomination, a pledge to appoint at least 10 women to his Cabinet.
To show how important Mt Kenya region is to his presidential bid, four of the 12 regional formations Mr Odinga has created to drive the Azimio campaign target the region. They include Central Kenya and Mt Kenya East teams, as well as Nakuru, Laikipia and Nyandarua units.
Voter turnout, political analyst Javas Bigambo says, is likely to be suppressed in the region as was witnessed during voter registration because of the absence of a galvanising figure or issue, or both.
“Dr Ruto’s team will need to stir up emotions as was in 2013 and 2017 to have the voters come out in large numbers as logic will not work going by the current economic situation,” he says.
Kericho Senator Aaron Cheruiyot said Ms Karua will not tilt Mt Kenya votes in Mr Odinga’s favour.
“Based on what I know, there are about 10 to 15 per cent of Mt Kenya voters who have not made up their minds. I do not think they will tilt because of Martha Karua. I find her to be a paper tiger in Mt Kenya politics,” he said.
Then there is Mr Musyoka’s restive Ukambani region and its 1.7 million votes.
Kitui, Makueni and Machakos, Mr Musyoka’s political base, gave Mr Odinga 900,405 votes out of the 1,068,684 who had registered in 2013. This jumped to 968,437 votes in 2017.
Were Mr Musyoka – who has announced his second presidential run protesting the move to nominate Ms Karua – to retain the same percentage, Mr Odinga’s possible gain in Mt Kenya, where he targets 1.8 million, could be wiped out entirely.
This would mean that Mr Odinga, who had 43.7 per cent votes in 2013 and 44.7 per cent in 2017 riding on a joint ticket with Mr Musyoka, would remain in this same spot.
Complicating matters further is Machakos Governor Alfred Mutua also crossing over to Dr Ruto’s camp, making a region that overwhelmingly voted for Mr Odinga in the last two elections a battleground.
But Mr Odinga is still banking on having Makueni Governor Kivutha Kibwana and Ms Ngilu to consolidate the voting bloc in his favour. His team will also be hoping that Mr Musyoka running a hopeless cause will not excite the region.
Besides Dr Mutua, the DP is betting on UDA chairperson and former Machakos Senator Johnson Muthama, and MPs Victor Munyaka (Machakos Town) and Vincent Musyoka (Mwala) to make significant inroads in the region. He has promised the Maendeleo Chap Chap Party leader a Cabinet position in his government for ditching Azimio.
ODM Secretary-General Edwin Sifuna said they have put in place measures to ensure that the exit of Mr Musyoka does not have serious ramifications.
“There will be no runoff. Azimio has put in place a strong team that will deliver a first-round win,” said Mr Sifuna.
At the heart of the elections, Rarieda MP Otiende Amollo argues, is what Mr Musyoka stands to gain, if any, were Mr Odinga to lose because of his solo bid.
“If Raila fails, how does that benefit you? If it is about a run-off, eventually, we will have a winner, and what do you get after that? That is what Kalonzo should ask himself as he moves away,” Dr Amollo said.
Jubilee Director of Elections Kanini Kega yesterday downplayed fears that the exit of Mr Musyoka was going to hurt Mr Odinga’s State House bid, arguing that looking at the characters of Ms Karua and Mr Gachagua, Mt Kenya region will overwhelmingly vote for the ODM boss.
“Woman factor. Other people have always been saying that we need to consider our women without any action. Baba has demonstrated through affirmative action.
“We have governor Charity Ngilu and Kivutha Kibwana on our side, and therefore, the Kamba will not make a mistake and be outside the government. Naturally, Baba has 45 per cent, what he needs is just another five percent, and with the selection of Rigathi Gachagua, Mt Kenya will choose good over evil, including those from Mt Kenya East,” the and Kieni MP explained.
As if to point to the place of the Ukambani vote with Mr Musyoka running, DP Ruto allies Kimilili MP Didmus Barasa and his Emurua Dikirr colleague Johanna Ng’eno see his candidacy as a blessing in disguise, arguing that he would eat into Mr Odinga’s vote basket.
“Kalonzo is our God-sent candidate on the other side. His candidacy does not affect us but it will eat into Raila’s votes. With Kalonzo exiting Azimio, Tinga (Mr Odinga) has lost a big constituency in his presidential race,” said Mr Barasa.
Mr Ngeno said: “If Kalonzo had remained in Azimio, he was going to bring a huge chunk of votes for Raila and that would have created a run-off but now that he has left, Raila remains the biggest casualty.”
In the Western region, Dr Ruto has enlisted the services of Mr Odinga’s political friends-turned-foes ANC party leader Musalia Mudavadi, Ford Kenya leader Moses Wetang’ula and former Budalang’i MP Ababu Namwamba to turn the tide against the former premier in a region that has voted for him overwhelmingly.
Senate Speaker Kenneth Lusaka, Vihiga Woman Rep Beatrice Adagala and Mumias East MP Benjamin Washiali have also been added to the fold as the DP plans to take away a significant percentage of the region’s votes.
To further sweeten the deal, the Western leaders allied to the DP have been promised 30 per cent of government posts as well as the proposed prime cabinet secretary for Mr Mudavadi and National Assembly Speaker for Mr Wetang’ula’s Ford Kenya.
Not leaving anything to chance and allowing Kenya Kwanza to make inroads into a region which has traditionally been his political bedrock, Mr Odinga responded by nominating Kakamega Governor Wycliffe Oparanya as the designate CS for Treasury and former Emuhaya MP Kenneth Marende as the Speaker of the Senate.
Western now has 2.2. million votes spread across its five counties, and the battle is on. Mr Odinga received 82 per cent of the votes in 2017.
Were Dr Ruto to get a slice, even just a third or the 700,000 votes, Mr Odinga’s vote plummets further making his fifth quest for presidency a lot harder.
Additional reporting by Onyango K’Onyango