Why regional kingpins have little to offer Raila and Ruto

Some of the senior politicians touted as kingpins of their respective regional strongholds might actually be paper tigers, the Nation Media Group opinion poll indicates.

Key figures such as President Uhuru Kenyatta, Mr Kalonzo Musyoka, Mr Musalia Mudavadi and Ms Martha Karua are rallying their political parties behind either of the two main presidential contenders.

Deputy President William Ruto, who is carrying the flag for the Kenya Kwanza Alliance, and his main presidential election rival, Raila Odinga of Azimio la Umoja-One Kenya coalition, are facing pressure from heads of respective affiliate parties canvassing to be named running-mate or cutting deals on posts-election share of government appointments.

The dealmaking is premised on votes the politicians are promising to deliver for the presidential candidate, but it is evident that the parties actually have very little support in their perceived strongholds.

A case in point is President Kenyatta, who retains control of the ruling Jubilee Party after his estranged deputy decamped to the United Democratic Alliance.

Mr Kenyatta has thrown his weight behind Mr Odinga’s presidential bid, the latter expecting to reap big from the massive six million Mount Kenya voting base that in 2013 and 2017 gave 97 percent of its vote to the Uhuru-Ruto ticket.

The reality, however, is that Mr Kenyatta—even with power of incumbency, access to the state machinery and capacity to assemble an enormous war chest—today holds very little sway in his own backyard.

The Nation opinion poll conducted by Infotrak Research & Consulting on May 8–9 shows that what remains of Jubilee has been reduced to a paltry three per cent support nationally. It trails far behind the ‘big 2’, Dr Ruto’s UDA, which, within a short time since its formation, has leapfrogged to the top with 38 percent support; and Mr Odinga’s well-established ODM, which enjoys 34 percent support.

Even in the Central region where Mr Kenyatta previously commanded near fanatical support, Jubilee’s support is down to eight per cent, far behind UDA at 58 per cent. Trailing a distant second place is ODM at 11 percent, but significantly having overtaken Jubilee.

Rating

In the rest of the other regions, Jubilee’s support is between one and three perc ent, the next highest rating being in Nairobi where it has five per cent, but lagging far behind ODM and UDA with 45 percent and 28 percent respectively.

It is instructive that this data was collected well after the President presided over a glitzy relaunch of Jubilee, which included rebranding to remove the Ruto association, and a programme to try and reclaim lost ground by fielding candidates across the country.

In return for backing Mr Odinga’s presidential bid, Jubilee is expected to nominate his running mate, expectation being that the selection would be from the Mt Kenya region as part of its effort to secure the vast voting bloc.

If it appears likely that even a Mt Kenya running mate will not bring substantial votes to his presidential bid, Mr Odinga might well have to take a fresh look at the value of the dalliance with the President.

He would pay a big prize if it means denying the running mate slot to Mr Musyoka of the Wiper Party, and precipitating an exodus of his sizeable Ukambani voting bloc.

Another politician worth assessing on his real value is former Vice President Mudavadi, who relaunched his presidential bid, only to step down to back the Ruto campaign. His reward was a sweetheart deal in which he was promised the post of ‘prime cabinet secretary’, prime minister in everything but name, with wide powers over the overall supervision and coordination of government.

Mr Mudavadi, leader of the Amani National Congress, and his Ford Kenya counterpart Moses Wetang’ula also extracted from Dr Ruto a promise to give their western region 30 percent presidential appointments.

The deal, as expected, caused discomfort amongst Dr Ruto’s Central Kenya supporters. Former Kiambu governor William Kabogo protested that Mt Kenya was proving the bulk of Kenya Kwanza votes but not getting anything approaching the king of deal Mudavadi got, save for promise of a diluted deputy presidency shorn of most powers.

So what do Mr Mudavadi and Mr Wetang’ula bring to the table? Western Kenya is indeed a large bloc of 2.6 million voters, but there is little evidence the duo can deliver that pool.

According to the Nation poll, the ANC and Ford Kenya do not register on the national radar of favoured political parties, both lost in the two per cent of ‘others’, far behind the table-topping UDA and ODM. They fall even behind Wiper, which matches Jubilee with three per cent support.

At the regional level, ANC and Ford Kenya have also sunk without trace in Mudavadi and Wetangula’s supposed Western Kenya bastions.

The poll shows them anonymous amongst the unnamed ‘others’, nowhere near ODM and UDA that command 40 and 30 percent support respectively.

Dr Ruto’s deal for the two had a catch: For Mr Mudavadi to be named Prime CS and Mr Wetang’ula put forward for Speaker of the Senate, and the opportunity for them to share 30 percent of government jobs for their supporters, they have to deliver 70 percent of the western Kenya vote. That is a tall order.

Dr Ruto, at the moment, enjoys 33 percent support in Western, an impressive gain from the 2017 Jubilee vote, but still behind Mr Odinga’s 48 percent.

Coalitions

On popularity of coalitions, Kenya Kwanza is at 31 per cent in Western Kenya, as Azimio leads with 49 per cent. Even if it might not have hit the plateau yet, Dr Ruto’s campaign will have to record a stupendous growth if he is to get 70 per cent of the western vote.

The sweetheart deal for Mr Mudavadi might well turn out be a poisoned chalice if he rates none of the promised goodies in the event of a Ruto presidency.

Then there is another former Vice President, Kalonzo Musyoka, who has been making loud demands for the Odinga running mate slot on account of the Ukambani numbers.

The Wiper party leader, who was Mr Odinga’s running in the last two elections, has been threatening to bolt Azimio with the 1.7 million votes he supposedly controls.

He has the option of decamping to the Ruto side, like Machakos Governor Alfred Mutua, or relaunching his own presidential bid.

Both moves would probably be fatal to Mr Odinga’s presidential prospects, but the jury is still out on whether the Lower Eastern voting bloc would follow him en masse.

But unlike the others, the opinion poll shows that Mr Musyoka is indeed a factor on home ground. His Wiper party commands 14 per cent of the following in the larger Eastern region, where ODM has 22 per cent and UDA 37 per cent.

These numbers, however, have to be qualified by the fact that a good chunk of the vote is in the Upper Eastern region, which was Kenyatta and now Ruto territory.

When broken down to the Lower Eastern sub-region of Machakos, Kitui and Makueni counties, Wiper numbers shoot up dramatically. Mr Kalonzo, in fact, takes the credit for strongly securing the Lower Eastern vote when he was Mr Odinga’s running mate, numbers that might dissipate if he walks away.

The flipside, however, is that despite Wiper dominance of Lower Eastern, it did not completely call the shots in previous elections. Mrs Charity Ngilu in Kitui, Prof Kivutha Kibwana in Makueni and Dr Alfred Mutua in Machakos all won gubernatorial seats without Musyoka’s patronage.

County assemblies in the three counties also show a hodge-podge of parties. Indeed, during the extended period Mr Musyoka was dilly-dallying on joining Azimio, it was the three governors against him.

It is thus unclear if every Lower Eastern vote would walk away with Mr Musyoka if he doesn’t get the running mate slot, but that is a risk Mr Odinga might not want to take.

Finally, there is Ms Martha Karua, who has emerged as strong contender for Mr Odinga’s running mate. Although she is from Central, the interesting thing is that she is not part of the options presented by Mr Kenyatta’s Jubilee.

She was presented by her own Narc Kenya, another party that does not feature anywhere on the radar at either national or regional level. Ms Karua does not present herself with any pretences to regional kingpin, but simply as a candidate enjoying broad support on her own personal appeal.

She featured high on the Nation poll amongst favoured Odinga running mates at 41 per cent to Mr Musyoka’s 27 per cent. Peter Kenneth was third with 10 per cent.

The trio were also reported to have topped the verdict of Mr Odinga’s selection panel in that order, so her chances for the coveted post are excellent.

The big question, however, is if she would bring a substantial vote basket with her. If indeed Dr Ruto has largely locked up the central vote, then neither Karua nor another candidate from the region propped up by Jubilee would make much of a difference.

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