Fears of voter apathy and possible lack of an outright first round win have jolted Deputy President William Ruto and his main rival Raila Odinga to retreat to their political bastions for last-lap campaigns.
The two frontrunners in the August 9 presidential race have lined up a series of mega rallies in their perceived strongholds in the last week of the campaigns in a new strategy to whip up supporters for high voter turnout. Analysis of the pick of areas for the final rallies also point to a deliberate attempt to stage a final onslaught in vanquishing political rebels in Dr Ruto and Mr Odinga’s backyards.
The two are facing serious opposition from politicians running as independents in protests against bungled primaries or issuance of direct tickets.
A majority of the planned final rallies by Dr Ruto will be staged in electoral areas having incumbents running as independents or backing Mr Odinga’s presidential bid. The campaign schedule by his Kenya Kwanza shows he will largely be in Rift Valley and nine Mt Kenya counties. The schedule shows that Dr Ruto will be visiting some Mt Kenya counties twice within the last week of the campaigns. Political analysts and allies of the pair say the intention is to prevent possible voter apathy that could be costly to either side.
University don and political analyst Macharia Munene says it is normal for politicians to spend their final resources in areas they are likely to benefit, adding that is why Dr Ruto has not wasted his time campaigning in some of Azimio’s strongholds like Siaya and other areas in Nyanza.
University of Nairobi’s Herman Manyora, a political commentator, says the choice of the bastions are meant for optics by attracting huge crowds aimed at sending political message on who has the numbers.
“The idea is usually the attendance. The turnout is meant to send a message to the people that you are the man of the moment and the election is for you to lose. The optics is good in lifting the spirit of the supporters,” said Mr Manyora.
If past voting patterns remain, analysts hold that the DP can only win the race by mobilising about 90 per cent of Rift Valley and Mt Kenya to cast their votes in his favour.
Mt Kenya accounted for about 53 per cent of the 7.4 million votes that President Uhuru Kenyatta polled in the 2017 repeat election. Mr Kenyatta managed to secure close to four million votes from the bloc, with the rest of the votes coming largely from Rift Valley and Nairobi.
Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC)’s final voter register shows that Mt Kenya has at least 5.7 million votes, making it a critical constituency in the succession race.
On the other hand, a tentative campaign schedule by Azimio la Umoja One Kenya shows that Mr Odinga will stage his last campaigns in Western, Nyanza and Coast, before retreating to Nairobi for his final submission on August 6, which is the official last day of the campaigns.
Both camps will have their final rallies in Nairobi and are already fighting over Nyayo Stadium as the venue for their last pitches to the over 22 million registered voters. The final onslaughts also aim at flipping the undecided voters, who, according to the latest opinion polls, are in excess of three million. The two are keen to cross the 50 per cent plus one vote required for a round one win.
Infrotrak poll conducted between July 2 and 7 and released last week shows that at least 3.3 million voters, representing 16 per cent, had yet to make up their mind, with Mr Odinga commanding the backing of 43 per cent of the voters, followed closely by Dr Ruto at 37 per cent. Both camps have, however, claimed confidence in winning in the first round—each side claiming to have made substantial inroads in their rival’s backyards.
ODM deputy party leader and Kakamega Governor Wycliffe Oparanya told Saturday Nation that the final rallies are meant to “wake up the people” to turn out and vote. “We have to wake up our people by telling them to turn out in large numbers to ensure a win for Azimio,” said Mr Oparanya.
He said Mr Odinga will be in Mt Kenya on August 1–2 ahead of a mega rally in Kakamega the following day (August 3). The Kakamega rally will be preceded with a series of stopovers in strategic areas within the Western region. The former premier will then proceed to his Kisumu bastion for another major political show of numbers on August 4. The Kisumu rally will similarly be preceded with stopover rallies to whip the entire Nyanza into voting for Mr Odinga and his lieutenants.
Mr Oparanya said his party boss will then fly to Mombasa for yet another final political ritual on the Coast on August 5. He further disclosed that Mr Odinga’s running mate, Martha Karua, will be spending much of the final week in Mt Kenya before joining her boss in Nairobi. The coalition has also split its campaign teams by stationing Mr Oparanya, Wiper leader Kalonzo Musyoka and Mombasa Governor Hassan Joho in Ukambani, Western and Coast respectively, in the final days.
In Kenya Kwanza, Dr Ruto plans to whip up supporters in his Rift Valley backyard that has a combined total votes of 5.34 million. He will begin his final leg of the campaigns tomorrow (Monday) by staging major rallies in West Pokot, Elgeyo Marakwet, Nandi Hills, Kesses and Moiben. The rallies are double-pronged as they are targeted at shoring up numbers and trying to vanquish political rebels.
In Elgeyo Marakwet, Ruto will be targeting Governor Alex Tolgos, who has defied the political wave in the region to back Mr Odinga and is running for the Senate seat on the Jubilee ticket against Ruto’s close ally, Senator Kipchumba Murkomen. Mr Tolgos is in his second and final term as governor.
It is the same strategy in Nandi Hills, Kesses and Moiben constituencies, where incumbents, Alfred Keter, Swarup Mishra, Silas Tiren respectively, are running on independent tickets. The trio fell out with Dr Ruto and have remained his fiercest critics from the region. Mr Keter participated in the United Democratic Alliance (UDA) nomination where he controversially lost, while Mr Tiren and Mr Mishra did not participate in the party primaries.
On July 26, DP Ruto will be in Baringo, Nakuru and Nyandarua counties, to woo residents and battle with his political nemesis, Kanu boss Gideon Moi, and governors Lee Kinyanjui and Francis Kimemia, respectively. Dr Ruto and Senator Moi have been in a supremacy battle for the region since the latter’s father, former President Daniel Moi, exited the political scene. The following day, Ruto will pitch camp in Nyeri, Murang’a and Kirinyaga, before proceeding to Meru, Embu and Tharaka Nithi on July 28. He will then go to Nandi, Busia and Bungoma on July 29, then head for Garissa and Mombasa the following day.