Kenyan Elections 2013 Polling Trends (Presidential Race)

It is less than two months to the Kenyan general election on March 4th 2013. In the next ten days political parties will nominate candidates (either directly or through primaries) for various elective posts – Governor (for the 47 counties), MP (290 of them), Senator (one per county), Woman MP (representing each county), and several County Representatives per county. I suspect the next round of polls will come out after the nomination exercises, which will undoubtedly result in further realignment of the political landscape.

Kenyan political parties are not known for their democratic credentials and I expect quite a few candidates (and their supporters) to shift their support if they feel that they’ve lost unfairly in the party primaries.

As I noted in my last post on the Kenyan elections, the institutional incentives have made it such that the presidential race is one between two main contenders – Uhuru Kenyatta and Raila Odinga. (Mr. Musalia Mudavadi has since fallen out with Mr. Kenyatta and is also running for president, although his candidature is mainly a strategy designed to maintain his political relevance in Western Kenya moving forward.)

Mr. Odinga’s biggest strength is his national appeal and name recognition – having been co-president of some sort (at least on paper) over the last 5 years he is running like an incumbent. He is also widely viewed as a reformer who can be trusted to implement the new constitution. His weaknesses include his proclivity to radicalism, a tendency to surround himself with yes-men from his ethnic group, and the failure to foster democratic competition within his own party – the Orange Democratic Movement.

Mr. Kenyatta’s strengths include his youth, name recognition (he is the son of Kenya’s first president), and his massive wealth (he is perhaps the richest Kenyan). His base (central Kenya and surrounding areas) is the most populous in the country and registered the highest rates of turnout in the voter registration exercise. Added to all of this is the fact that in his running mate, William Ruto, he has one the best, if not the best, political campaigner this election cycle. Mr. Ruto knows how to get the masses excited with memorable talking points. His phrase “kusema na kutenda” (saying and doing) is the main rallying call of this election.

The duo’s biggest weakness is their impending case at the ICC. Mr. Kenyatta is also of the same ethnicity as the outgoing President Kibaki. Many in Kenya feel that the presidency should go to a different region this time round, central Kenya having had it twice. Mr. Ruto is from the same ethnic group as Kenya second president Daniel Moi. Both Ruto and Kenyatta are suspected to be lukewarm with regard to the new constitution. Mr. Kenyatta only reluctantly backed the document while Mr. Ruto campaigned against it.

As we await the next round of polls and the final picture of regional alignments, below is a snapshot of the polling trends over the last 18 months. Mr. Odinga (in my view the slight favorite to be Kenya’s 4th president) has consistently led in the polls since March of 2010. No one has so far cracked the 50% mark. The Kenyan constitution mandates that the winning presidential candidate garner 50%+1 of the votes cast.

Does this mean that there will be a runoff after March 4? The answer to this question depends on how well Mudavadi performs in his Western Province backyard. Having registered the second highest number of voters this cycle (behind Mr. Kenyatta’s Central Province (and its “diaspora”) base), Western Province (and its “diaspora”) is the biggest swing region. Mr. Odinga is banking on the Western vote and may win in the first round if Mudavadi doesn’t have a good showing on March 4th.

click on image to enlarge.


Poll numbers from Infotrak Research.

khalwale re-elected

Bonny Khalwale has won back his Ikolomani parliamentary seat. Mr. Khalwale lost his seat after the courts nullified his election in 2007 on account of irregularities.

What does this mean for Kenyan national politics?

My answer is that it is hard to tell. The results will certainly dent Deputy Premier Mudavadi’s claim to be the voice of Western Province. The outcome also reflects badly on Premier Odinga who had staked his reputation in the election by campaigning repeatedly in the constituency for the ODM candidate – who came second. The biggest winner here is Eugene Wamalwa who has been angling for the title of ethnic chief spokesperson for Western Province. It just might serve to increase his chances of being nominated as a vice presidential candidate (by either Uhuru or Kalonzo) in next year’s election.

That said, all politics is local. Clan politics and Western-specific regional and sub-ethnic squabbles definitely played a role in this election. Plus, Mr. Khalwale can always be bought off into the Odinga bandwagon come next year. That is the nature of Kenyan politics.

As regards next year’s general election the field is still wide open. All bets are off until candidates hand in their presidential nomination papers. It is a good thing the constitution has a ban on post-submission negotiation of posts (and alliances).