Ruto vs Raila, the path to victory

Raila and Ruto

Azimio la Umoja One Kenya coalition party presidential flagbearer Raila Odinga (top) when he met Youth from Mt. Kenya in Nyeri. Kenya Kwanza's William Ruto (bottom) pushing a wheelbarrow at Kaiyaba grounds in Nyeri county.

Deputy President William Ruto and his main rival Raila Odinga are banking on youth and women vote blocs as well as about 13 battleground counties to secure a win on August 9.

Dr Ruto has deliberately crafted a campaign agenda targeting the youth through his “hustler narrative” that promises financial support to the unemployed while Mr Odinga picked Narc-Kenya leader Martha Karua as his running mate in a deliberate move to tap the women support base and the Mt Kenya vote.

Both camps have each projected a win but recent opinion polls show they are still locked in a tight race, with strategists around the duo now shifting their focus on the perceived battlegrounds that account for at least 5.7 million votes.

A Tifa poll released last month placed Mr Odinga-Karua ticket ahead with 39 percent backing and Ruto-Rigathi Gachagua at 35 percent rating. Another poll by Nation Media Group conducted before the two unveiled their running mates placed them at 42 percent each.

Nairobi that has 2.5 million voters, Tana River (137,661), Lamu (79,157), Garissa (207,435), Wajir (196,466), Marsabit (164,864), Turkana (241,583), West Pokot (214,574), Samburu (98,081), Narok (397,618), Kajiado (463,546), Kisii (638,603) and Nyamira (316,389) are considered as battlegrounds based on the outcome of the 2013 and 2017 polls.

Mr Odinga’s camp has claimed a 60 percent win, citing substantial backing in at least 34 out of 47 counties, according to their internal survey.

The Azimio la Umoja-One Kenya Coalition further claims that some of the regions that swept President Uhuru Kenyatta and Dr Ruto into power in 2013 and 2017 have since shifted into a battlegrounds as a result of the dramatic fallout by the duo.

Their argument is that if past voting patterns remain, the DP can only win by mobilising over 90 per cent of Rift Valley and Mt Kenya to cast their votes in his favour. This Azimio claim is no longer attainable for the DP since no further major political realignments are expected in the run up to the August 9 polls.

“Everything except Kalenjin counties is in Azimio. Mt Kenya is currently a contested ground and we expect a 50-50 there. Our stars are rising and theirs dimming,” says the head of Mr Odinga’s campaign secretariat and Laikipia Governor Ndiritu Muriithi.

But DP Ruto’s Kenya Kwanza Alliance has also projected an eight per cent lead. Their projection is based on their recent inroads in Western and Coast regions in addition to “solid backing” in both Rift Valley and Mt Kenya that accounts for at least 5.8 million votes.

According to their projection, they are set to poll more than Mr Odinga in Kwale, Kilifi, Bungoma and Vihiga counties, which have traditional backed Mr Odinga in past polls. They are also projecting a 50-50 win in Nairobi that has 2.5 million votes.

Amani National Congress (ANC) leader Musalia Mudavadi, Ford Kenya boss Moses Wetangu’ula and The Pamoja African Alliance (PAA) counterpart Amason Kingi backed Mr Odinga in the last poll but have since thrown their weight behind Dr Ruto.

Other leaders that the alliance banks on to deliver regions that previously belonged to their opponents are Kwale Governor Salim Mvurya, his Machakos counterpart Alfred Mutua as well as Turkana county boss Josephat Nanok.

“Odinga has also lost some of his traditional backyards. People who supported him in the past are now in Kenya Kwanza campaigning for Ruto. Mudavadi, Wetang’ula, Governor Amason Kingi, among others, are no longer with him,” says Nandi Senator Samson Cherargei, an ally of DP Ruto.

But Cotu boss Francis Atwoli claims that an internal survey conducted by the coalition had placed Mr Odinga at 60 per cent and Dr Ruto at 38 per cent. He made the claims while dismissing Mr Mudavadi and Wetang’ula’s influence in Western Kenya.

“A part from the very few counties in Rift Valley, a majority of counties are in Azimio. It is clear in my mind than ever before that the die is cast. Western was locked in December 31 last year during the Bukhungu II declaration,” say Mr Atwoli.

But analysis of the recent opinion polls suggest that the voting patterns have largely remained with slight changes in certain areas.

Dr Ruto is still ahead in perceived strongholds of Rift Valley and Central at 61 and 60 per cent respectively, according to the Nation Media Group opinion poll conducted by Infotrak Research & Consulting on May 8 and 9. Mr Odinga has 22 per cent in Central and 25 in Rift Valley.

At the same time, Mr Odinga has maintained lead in his perceived strongholds of Nyanza at 72 per cent, Coast 55, Nairobi 51, Western 48, and North Eastern 48. The two front-runners tie in Eastern.

The pattern is not different in the Tifa poll that still places Dr Ruto ahead in Rift Valley at 59 per cent and 46 in Central with Mr Odinga ahead in all his traditional backyard.

According to Senator Wetang’ula, Kenya Kwanza Alliance’s bottom-up economic model has captured the imaginations of a majority of Kenyans and has gone beyond ethnic balkanisation.

He argues that the ground has since shifted from their opponents, who are busy telling “history of their fathers” at the expense of offering solutions to the unemployed youth.

“I am absolutely confident; I have been participating in elections in this country and my level of confidence is where it was in 2002 elections. I have no doubt, numbers and figures available to us is that, we are going to win with a comfortable majority,” says Mr Wetang’ula.

He described Ruto’s clearance by the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission as the “beginning of a dance” to State House.

Political analyst Herman Manyora says that a majority of youth turning out to vote on August 9 would be disastrous to Mr Odinga’s bid. He argues that many of them resonate with the “hustler narrative” while more women were likely to back the former premier because of the Karua factor.

“If youths were to turn up, it would spell disaster for Raila. But we witnessed poor turnout in the recent voter registration. That can be a good indicator that they are not a very reliable demographics,” he adds.

Picking Ms Karua, Mr Manyora argues, will work in favour of Mr Odinga as he is likely win the support of women.

“Absence of a serious candidate in Mt Kenya favours Raila. In the face of it, the mountain is for Ruto, but in the absence of a candidate from the region, it is a stepping stone for post-Uhuru scene. This means they will be looking at Karua and Gachagua; who is the right person to take up the region. This favours Raila,” he adds.

In 2013, Mr Odinga narrowly edged Mr Kenyatta in Nairobi by polling 691,156 against 659,490. But the gap widened in 2017 when Mr Odinga polled 828,826 against Uhuru’s 791,291.

Ford Kenya secretary-general Chris Wamalwa says they have since covered new grounds in the capital city through their presidential and governor tickets. The alliance has fronted Senator Johnson Sakaja.

“From the look of things, Ruto is a candidate for all Kenyans not a state-sponsored project. The will of the people will prevail. I can tell you that we are ahead by more than 10 per cent because we have Central Kenya, Rift Valley, Western and Nairobi. We are taking Kwale, Kilifi and Taita Taveta counties.

Similarly, Azimio says it has gained additional grounds to its fold. The coalition believes that it will have more numbers in Nyamira and Kisii counties in the coming poll.

In 2013, Mr Odinga won in Nyamira by polling 121,590 against Mr Kenyatta’s 54, 071 but the latter flipped the region in 2017 polling 106,508 against Mr Odinga’s 95,227.

In Kisii, Uhuru reduced Raila’s lead with the ODM leader polling 236,831 against the president’s 95,596. In 2017, Mr Odinga garnered 223,155 against Mr Kenyatta’s 174,213.

ODM chairman John Mbadi says that Mr Odinga has largely retained his traditional bastions on top of fresh grounds he has made through his new political allies.

He says the focus of the coalition at the moment is to ensure a high voter turnout for an “overwhelming win” in favour of Mr Odinga.

“If Raila’s traditional strongholds vote as they have been doing in the past polls, we are clearly going to win. But if the turnout in Western, Coast and Nyanza surpass the previous turnout, it will be overwhelming win in favour of Raila. The stars are properly aligned and God is with us,” says Mr Mbadi.

“The grounds that were red (Jubilee) in 2017 are grey (battleground); they are not yellow (UDA) and may turn blue (Azimio),” he adds.

He says the two counties of Nyamira and Kisii are currently solidly behind Raila and the coalition is likely to get more votes.

The coalition’s projection is based on the number of leaders from the region backing Mr Odinga’s bid.

Both Governors James Ongwae (Kisii) and Amos Nyaribo (Nyamira) are behind Azimio. Interior Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang’i has also shown his support for Mr Odinga.

It is the same argument the coalition has for Kajiado that was contested narrowly in both 2013 and 2017. In 2013, Mr Kenyatta polled 138,851 against Mr Odinga’s 117,856. He widened the lead in 2017 polling 186,481 against Mr Odinga’s 138,405.

Azimio argues that the fact that Kajiado Governor Joseph Ole Lenku and his predecessor David Nkedianye are backing Mr Odinga, the coalition was headed for a win. Mr Lenku is defending his seat on ODM while Nkedianye is running on Jubilee. Both parties are in Azimio.