Key current events and questions in the Kenyan Presidential election

Waiting for the Hurricane Isaac to visit us here on the Gulf Coast I have been drafting a long post/essay on the potential impact on the Kenyan election of the outcome of the U.S. elections and corresponding with a friend who is getting ready to go to Kenya.

Before polishing that up, I wanted to catch up on the Kenyan presidential race itself.

Under the new Constitution we are seeing the first Kenyan election under a “run-off for majority” rather than a “first past the post” system. Under this new system, any candidate who dominates the Kikuyu vote is almost guaranteed a spot in a run-off as long as there is more than one other candidate of any significance at all in the first round.

For months the polls have continued to reflect a race dominated by Raila Odinga and Uhuru Kenyatta. Odinga has a significant lead but less than an outright majority and Kenyatta has a large margin for second place, or the spot in a runoff as the prevailing Kikuyu, anti-Odinga or non-Luo alternative. Among claimants to be the choice of the Kikuyu/Central Province “old guard” establishment, Kenyatta alone shows strongly in the public opinion polls. In this regard the race has remained relatively stable for weeks.

Deputy Prime Minister Musalia Mudavadi and Vice President Kalonzo Musyoka both have significant support, but do not rival Uhuru in the polling. MP William Ruto running as a fellow ICC “victim” and champion of Kalenjin Rift Valley interests is not getting much national traction and none of the alternative Kikuyu candidates has shown themselves as a threat in the polls so far.

Details of “parties” and alliances and alignments shift weekly if not daily, but the main specific potential “game changer” of the past few months seems to have remained the untimely death in a helicopter crash of Internal Security Minister George Saitoti. Saitoti, on one hand, could be seen as one more candidate among the pack with Kalonzo and Mudavadi–I would see him, however, as a much stronger contender against Uhuru specifically. If I had been advising Uhuru’s campaign (for the record I don’t know who he is using in this capacity outside Kenya this time) I would have been much more focused on Saitoti than the others.

Saitoti was a Kikuyu-speaker of mixed ethnicity representing a near-Nairobi Rift Valley district, with a strong background in the Moi administration, within which he had gotten rich. As Kibaki‘s Internal Security Minister he had a more substantive portfolio and was more of an insider than the Vice President. Kalonzo had run separately in 2007 under the ODM-Kenya splinter and did not publicly endorse Kibaki until after the election. He provided crucial service in the pinch to the Kibaki campaign in that role, but assuming the truth to what then-MP and Kalonzo associate Joe Khamisi wrote in his book The Politics of Betrayal–that Kalonzo cut a pre-election deal with Kibaki through Stanley Murage–it’s hard to see that he would have earned himself a lot of respect. And of course Mudavadi had been against Kibaki (and thus for Uhuru with Moi) in 2002, and then been a member of Raila’s Pentagon against Kibaki in 2007. So its difficult to see that simply abandoning Raila and ODM in 2012 would be enough to give Mudavadi a serious claim on Kibaki’s affections to the point of the President throwing him Uhuru’s base with Uhuru still in the race.

Saitoti, running under the same PNU (“Party of National Unity“) label under which Kibaki claimed re-election, seems to me to have been in a different category of potential even if he had not yet moved out in the polls. Another interesting factor for Saitoti would have been his role as Minister of Internal Security in dealing with the major outside players such as the Western powers and Museveni. PNU was a bit illusive in 2007 as some hybrid of “party”, “coalition” and “committee to re-elect the president”, but nonetheless elected a section of MPs in its own name. With Saitoti dead there have been purported “PNU” endorsements of Uhuru already.

Obviously the prospect of electing a new president of Kenya on the eve of his trial for crimes against humanity by the ICC is disturbing/offensive to Kenya’s ally the United States and the European powers and many of Kenya’s other friends. An article in the Daily Nation yesterday highlights the seemingly difficult spot that Kibaki is in with the competing claims to his support in the context of the ICC indictment against Uhuru.

Kibaki plays his cards close and I doubt most of us will ever know much of what he ends up doing in regard to the 2013 election. I would encourage interested observers to make sure to remember that the Kenyan administration hosted Sudan’s Omar al-Bashir–under indictment from the ICC and with well-established pariah status to celebrate the new Kenyan Constitution and inaugurate the “new era” two years ago.

As for Kalonzo and Mudavadi, assuming that Uhuru stays in the race they are potentially in a position of serving as important “placeholders” to assure Uhuru a spot in a run-off against Raila. But then in the run-off, would they stay lock-step in the anti-Raila position, or could they be peeled away? Obviously it would be very hard personally for Kalonzo to support Raila after 2007 but Mudavadi has supported Raila once. Would their first round voters follow them in a run-off regardless?

And of course the biggest question of all. The stakes are higher in the presidential race than in 2007. Will the IEBC come through with a credibly complete and accurate count of the votes and what will happen if not?

1 thought on “Key current events and questions in the Kenyan Presidential election

  1. Pingback: Recent Kenya polling points to concern on voter registration, other issues | AfriCommons Blog

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