Could some strategists in President Uhuru Kenyatta’s camp be exploring a poll-runoff game plan as an alternative should it become impossible to rally rivals around a sole presidential flag bearer for an anticipated broad-based alliance?
The President has milked political capital by having in his corner opposition rivals, including his erstwhile arch-opponent and ODM leader Raila Odinga, as well as One Kenya Alliance leaders, who now serve as a buffer against a hostile wing of the ruling party led by his deputy William Ruto.
But with elections 16 months away, the constellation of political bigwigs – Mr Odinga, One Kenya Alliance’s Gideon Moi, Kalonzo Musyoka, Musalia Mudavadi and Moses Wetangula – is presenting the headache of anointing a successor without wrecking the alliance.
Political analyst Mutahi Ngunyi, who has for long been associated with State House, alluded to this dilemma recently when he suggested a plan to force a runoff, which would indirectly settle the question of who is first among equals.
“Instead of pre-election coalitions, the "Law of natural selection" will be used to force a run-off. Two candidates will emerge. The first will be a GEMA-supported candidate (Fred Matiang’i?) The second will be from the Mulembe nation – all based on ethnic vote,” Mr Ngunyi suggested in a post on Twitter.
The Constitution provides that a candidate shall be declared elected as President if the candidate receives more than half of all the votes cast in the election (so-called 50 per cent plus one) and at least 25 per cent of the votes cast in each of more than half of the counties (24).
This would imply strong presidential candidates would compete against each other to lock their support bases, hoping that none would secure a first-round win.
The plan is also based on the assumption that they would be strong enough to ensure the common ‘enemy’ – presumably DP Ruto – does not clinch a first-round win.
To manage his succession plan, President Kenyatta is propping up some political figures while keeping Mr Odinga guessing.
The politicians the President is putting in his succession equation include Mudavadi (Western), Gideon (Rift Valley) and Musyoka (Lower Eastern).
Outside OKA but still within the President’s circle are Mombasa Governor Hassan Joho (Coast), Interior Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang’i (Kisii Nyanza) and former Kiambu Governor William Kabogo (Central, where the President comes from).
But even as the President props his men, he does not want to show whom he favours.
But then, regions where they come from have become conscious of their men’s desire to lead the country.
“By propping them up, the President has kept every region guessing. This is a pure divide-and-rule tactic,” University of Nairobi lecturer Mr Herman Manyora says.
The plan would seem to allow all of them, including Mr Odinga, to contest independently, hoping that none of them will garner the mandatory 50 per cent plus one votes required to win in the first round.
In doing this, the principle of natural selection comes in.
DP Ruto will be on the ballot and will remain a constant, meaning he will either emerge top in the first round but without attaining the majority votes or will be second to whoever emerges the winner within the President’s line-up.
Mr Manyora believes the President might not come out now to support his favoured successor as that would likely boomerang.
“He can only gather all and ensure none scatters,” Mr Manyora says. “He wants to play the cards close to his chest so that nothing goes against his plans.”
“At least it is clear DP Ruto is not in his succession plan,” he adds.
Political analyst and governance expert Barasa Nyukuri says this strategy is aimed at having a strong candidate who will deny DP Ruto round-one victory.
“The President, even as he plans his succession, is at a crossroads,” Mr Nyukuri says.
“The President does not want to come out and show whether he supports Mr Odinga or OKA leaders,” he adds.
According to Mr Nyukuri, those who fail to perform well will then be required to support whoever emerges the winner to face DP Ruto in the anticipated run-off.
“This is how Kenyatta is planning his own succession without hurting Mr Odinga and the OKA leaders,” Mr Nyukuri adds.
The President is simply saying he is a friend to all of them but wants them to be each other’s enemy in his own succession.
This is a copy-and-paste script from Bismarck, the founder and first German Vice Chancellor, who was known for his iron-fisted divide-and-rule tendencies.
It should not be forgotten that the President has previously said he will have a choice on who succeeds him.
In some cases, he has used idioms to drive his message home.
Sometimes last year, he said: “Usione simba amenyeshewa, ukadhani ni paka (don’t mistake a lion that has been rained on for a cat).”
This was a veiled warning to those who may have assumed the President had reached a lame-duck stage on account of his expected exit from office.
"Everyone for himself and God for us all" is another of the loaded messages the President has been passing to his would-be successors recently.
Perhaps the meaning here is that Kenya must always remain one even as “we seek our individual political capital”.
But Mr Manyora warns the route the President seems to be crafting could boomerang.
“You cannot underrate DP Ruto by simply putting together regional kingpins in the hope that the contest will be decided in the second round. He may just beat them in the first round and that will be the end,” Mr Manyora says.
Mr Manyora notes while the President is not ready to betray Mr Odinga, the fact remains that some villagers know that some OKA leaders will go nowhere, opening up the way for DP Ruto.
“Maybe President Kenyatta knows something we don’t know but pushing this strategy will hand his deputy victory in the morning,” he says.