Recent Kenya polling points to concern on voter registration, other issues

Most recently, a new Gallup poll indicates that most Kenyans who are identifying themselves as “registered voters” do not in fact have the required new voting cards.  This raises several concerns: a lack of “civic education” as to what is going to be required in order to vote and confusion as to who is eligible; a big job ahead to get voters registered for the upcoming election; questions about the reliability of the opinion polling in distinguishing “registered voters” from other respondents.  New Gallup release: “In Kenya: Most Registered Voters Lack Required Voting Card”.

The other significant development is continued campaign progress by Deputy Prime Minister Uhuru Kenyatta, indicted by the ICC on “crimes against humanity” charges and facing trial scheduled shortly after the first round of voting.  The latest Synovate poll, as others have for months, show Prime Minister Odinga with a significant plurality lead, but Kenyatta continues to significantly outpace any rivals in second place.  See Tom Maliti’s reporting at ICC Kenya Monitor: “Poll: Kenyatta Makes Biggest Gains in Kenya Presidential Race”.  Kenyatta is now shown as running ahead of Odinga in a runoff.  A few months ago, Odinga’s runoff standing looked difficult in some match-ups; his numbers have risen and then now fallen back.

The election is months away and it doesn’t make sense to get too excited about each new poll that comes out, but there are points of significance here.  For one thing the polls continue to show that it is very difficult for any of the less established or “newer” candidates to get traction nationwide in a crowded field, leaving the scions of Kenya’s founding fathers who have previously run nationally and been national figures for many years as the primary contestants seen as viable.  For another, while polls continue to show majority support for the ICC process, large numbers of Kenyans are simply not put off by the charges against Kenyatta, and the fact and nature of the charges themselves seem to work to some degree in his favor in establishing him as the dominant candidate from the Central Province/Mt. Kenya area and among his fellow Kikuyu.

Odinga, on the other hand, seems to be having some difficulty in generating new momentum.  He’s been “the man to beat” since the last election so anyone who wants to bust open the race has to target him. The ethnic coalition that Odinga put together through his “Pentagon” that allowed him to poll the most votes nationally in 2007 (according to the exit poll and accounting for misconduct at the ECK) has proven itself to be for the most part a one-off campaign vehicle, like the competing ethnic coalition in Kibaki’s PNU.  Odinga has limited power as Prime Minister but is hamstrung in running as an opposition/reformist candidate–always his milieu in the past–as a “principal” of the “Government of National Unity”.

In a one-on-one runoff, a hypothetical Kikuyu candidate with a strong ethnic base starts with a big advantage over a hypothetical Luo candidate with a strong ethnic base.  Aside from the fact that there are nearly twice as many Kikuyu as Luo, the usual “tribal arithmetic” adds up more quickly from there for the Kikuyu. But neither Kenyatta nor Odinga is in the least bit “hypothetical”–they are unique individuals with strongly identifiable and well know strengths and weaknesses. “Tribalism” will matter and be a part of the campaigns, but it is not the only important factor. With the election five months away, there are many, many deals to be made and many of those to be broken or reconfigured before we really see what the lay of the land is in the presidential race.

It is not a bit too early, however, for the United States and other Western nations who have been much involved with Kenya these last few years to make some decisions about policy in terms of the interaction between the Kenyan presidential race and the ICC process.    In the U.S., this may quickly fall in the lap of a new administration.

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