Three Known Unknowns Ahead of Kenya’s Presidential Election Tomorrow

Here are three factors that could potential lead to a surprise outcome in Kenya’s presidential election tomorrow.

1. Turnout: To be honest, we don’t really know what to expect with regard to turnout figures tomorrow. As Charles Hornsby notes here:

For some time I have been wrestling with an ethical problem. Reviewing the 2013 turnouts, in comparison with that from previous national elections since 2002, it became clear with the benefit of hindsight that turnouts were implausibly high not just in Luo Nyanza and Central Province, but in many other places…….. The size and scale gap between 2013 and every other election for the past 15 years is hard to explain.

In other words, there is good reason to believe that the 2013 turnout figures were artificially high.

The use of technology and a raft of reforms, including the planned announcement of results at the constituency-level, are supposed to minimize opportunities for political parties to gin up turnout in friendly areas this time round. If these safeguards work, we will all be flying blind with regard to our turnout-based predictions of the final outcome in the presidential election. All I can say for now is that Kenyatta has a structural advantage over Odinga on likely turnout, but that if Odinga matches Kenyatta on turnout (especially in Coast and Western regions) he will most likely become Kenya’s fifth president.

2. Technology: The Kenyan public’s perception of the integrity of the polls will crucially hinge on how well the IEBC’s Kenya Integrated Electoral Management System (KIEMS) is judged to work. Kenya is holding one of the most expensive elections in the world (judged by cost per vote). And the use of expensive technology has been touted as a way of minimizing human discretion and, therefore, opportunities for vote rigging. But technology only works as well as humans allow it to. And sometimes stuff hits the fan. In addition, the IEBC only partially tested its results transmission system. Which means that there will most likely be hiccups in the data transmission process from the country’s 40,883 polling stations. Widespread technological failures will tarnish the integrity of the outcome, and could be a catalyst for political instability. 

3. The accuracy of opinion polls: Throughout this cycle, all polls except one have shown Kenyatta to be ahead of Odinga. In the recent past the polls have certainly tightened, with Kenyatta leading Odinga by 3 percentage points or less. But what if the polls are wrong? In 2013 they underestimated Kenyatta’s support by about 2 percentage points, on average. The same inherent bias may be at play this year, or it could be reversed. One important factor to look out for will be the effect of local gubernatorial races on the presidential race. For instance, the outcomes of local contests in counties like Machakos, Bomet, Narok, Meru, and Bungoma will likely have non-trivial effects on the presidential race in the same counties. Yet throughout this cycle there has been very little effort to calibrate the national polls using information from the state of county contests. And so while I believe that existing opinion polls give a fairly accurate depiction of the state of the race, only the final vote counts will tell.

 

 

 

 

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Three Important Narratives Driving Kenya’s 2017 Presidential Election

I think it is safe to say that Kenya’s 2017 election is a lot more about 2022 than it is about deciding who will be Kenya’s president over the next five years. And for that we have to thank Deputy President William Ruto. In 2013 Ruto defied all odds and served as kingmaker for Uhuru Kenyatta. In exchange, Kenyatta promised to support his stab at the presidency in 2022, assuming Kenyatta wins reelection this August.

At the moment the odds are in favor of Kenyatta winning reelection, either fairly or unfairly.

rutoWhich makes a lot of the campaigning in this cycle about building alliances and potential national coalitions for Ruto’s 2022 stab at the presidency. To this end three important narratives are emerging that specifically relate to Ruto’s quest to be Kenya’s 5th president.

  1. Stop Raila Odinga at all costs: The only man standing between William Ruto and the presidency is Odinga. A surprise Odinga win this August would deal a serious blow to Ruto’s presidential ambitions. As I have noted before, Ruto’s political following has remained largely transactional, and dependent on the constant flow of resources. If out of power these resources would certainly dry. In addition, Ruto has only recently acquired enormous wealth, which means that he still lacks the deep rootedness among Kenya’s economic elite that would afford him protection like it has for the Moi, Kibaki, Odinga, and Kenyatta families. A double loss of political and economic power would be too steep a fall to recover from. If Odinga loses, that will certainly be the end of his political career and will provide a wide opening for Ruto to raid his vote-rich strongholds in preparation for future elections.
  2. Have a negotiation-proof Kenyatta succession plan: It is common knowledge that Kenyatta’s promise to back Ruto in 2022 is not credible. Whatever his personal commitments to Ruto, Kenyatta’s political base will be independent enough to back candidates of their own choice in 2022. And as a former president, Kenyatta will have no power to compel political and economic elites to back the candidate of his choice. Which is why Ruto has sought to cement the credibility of Kenyatta’s promise by building a strong political party in Jubilee Party. JP is supposed to tie Kenyatta’s hands by coupling the political destinies of the Ruto and Kenyatta wings of the ruling coalition in both 2017 and 2022. If this scheme succeeds, the de facto party leader (i.e. Ruto) will have an enormous upper hand in influencing the public political behavior of elites allied to Kenyatta in 2022, perhaps enough to keep them faithful to Kenyatta’s public commitments. If this sounds familiar it is because a variant of this has been done before, by Moi through KANU following the death of Jomo Kenyatta in 1978.
  3.  Consolidate the Rift Valley vote: Ruto is no Moi, yet. Which means that he will continue to struggle to cement the Rift Valley vote, especially this year. Isaac Ruto might surprise him in Bomet (and parts of Kericho). And in the future Gideon Moi will certainly make a run for Elgeyo Marakwet, in addition to Baringo and Nakuru (and the wider Rift vote). All to say that, as a politician, Ruto is at once extremely powerful and vulnerable. He is powerful on account of being Deputy President with seemingly unlimited access to state resources. But he is also incredibly vulnerable, especially because his own backyard is littered with people who would soon see him tossed into the dustbin of history. In this sense he is no Kenyatta or Odinga, both of whom enjoy near-fanatical support in their respective bases and do not have any serious elite challengers.

All this to say that Deputy President William Ruto probably has the most to lose in this August’s presidential election. Which probably means that he will also work the hardest of any of the leading national politicians this cycle. And work hard he will, being one of the most electrifying national politicians on the stump (perhaps second only to Mombasa Governor Hassan Joho). This, of course, is good news for the incumbent Jubilee Party and President Kenyatta’s reelection prospects.

Uhuru Kenyatta ahead of Raila Odinga in the first post-nomination poll

Ipsos just released a poll in which President Uhuru Kenyatta leads Hon. Raila Odinga 48-42% among a representative sample of voting age adults. While this is not a particularly good showing for an incumbent with a few achievements to tout, the poll confirms Kenyatta’s frontrunner status. Furthermore, a 6 percentage point lead combined with his structural advantage in the turnout game mean that if the polls do not narrow any further Kenyatta will likely win in the first round come August 8th. In 2013 most public polls consistently over-estimated Odinga’s support by about 2 percentage points by not accounting for turnout patterns.

A few things other things are worth noting from the Ipsos poll:

  1. Polls have tightened over the last few months. As Odinga consolidates the opposition, his poll numbers have converged on Kenyatta’s. This is a trend worth watching over the next few weeks.
  2. The number of undecideds, especially in Coast, Eastern and Western regions, is rather high. This should worry Odinga. Again, Kenyatta has a structural advantage in the turnout game, which means that if Odinga is to have a fighting chance he must ensure that his strongholds register both high turnout rates and give him an even bigger share of their votes than in 2013. That they remain undecided does not bode well for Odinga’s chances. In the table below, Kenyatta’s poll numbers are close to his numbers both in final poll of 2013 and the official election results. Undecideds appear to be voters who sided with Odinga in 2013.Screen Shot 2017-05-31 at 9.30.40 PM.png
  3. This poll may be over-estimating Kenyatta’s support in Western region. In 2013 Kenyatta under-performed his poll numbers in Western region by a whole 29 percentage points. And so while his 23% rating in Western region may be a sign that Deputy President William Ruto’s investments are bearing fruit, I would not take these numbers to the bank just yet.
  4. Odinga has made significant gains in the Rift Valley region since 2013. One way for Odinga to force a runoff (or eke out a squeaker of a first round win) would be to peel off enough voters in from the North Rift. He appears to be doing that. His poll numbers in the region in 2013 were spot on, making his 32% rating in the region believable for now. Recent developments also suggest that he is gaining ground in Narok, Bomet, and parts of Kajiado. That should be a source of concern for the Kenyatta team.
  5. It is still a turnout game, and Odinga is trailing. The bulk of undecideds — in Coast, Eastern, and Western regions — appear to be likely Odinga supporters. While this may mean that they are likely to break for Odinga in August, it could also mean that they will remain undecided and stay home on election day. Hassan Joho, Kalonzo Musyoka/Charity Ngilu, and Musalia Mudavadi/Moses Wetangula have their work cut out for them.

While a lot may happen between now and August 8th, it is fair to say that Kenyatta is in a strong position. Odinga has several paths to victory, but success along any of those parts is dependent on the NASA coalition running a near-perfect campaign focused on both increasing turnout and running up the score in their strongholds. To this end the lack of enthusiasm in Coast, (lower) Eastern, and Western regions is definitely not a good sign.

The one thing that should worry Kenyatta is Odinga’s apparent gains in the Rift Valley region. If Odinga gains traction in Bomet, it is conceivable that he would also be able to peel off votes in Kericho. It is not that long ago that both Deputy President William Ruto had to camp in Kericho to avoid an embarrassing loss in a by-election. His preferred candidate ended up winning with 66% of the vote. In Bomet, incumbent Governor Isaac Ruto is backing Odinga. And while he will face a tough time swaying voters to Odinga’s camp, it is not far-fetched to imagine that he could bag around 40%. If the same happens in Kericho then two of the Rift Valley’s most important vote baskets will become swing. And Kenyatta would be in serious trouble.

Note: Nearly all the polls this cycle will not take into account any “likely voter models.” I will do my best to guestimate turnout rates based on passed voting patterns and other variables. 2026 out of 5484 contacted agreed to participated in this Ipsos poll.

Electoral Integrity Issues Ahead of Kenya’s General Election in August 2017

1. Raila Odinga won the 2007 presidential election, at least according to aggregate results from media houses. On a related note, President Kenyatta will most likely face a stiff challenge from a unified opposition, a fact that will put the integrity of the outcome in the August 8th presidential election front and center. Which is why it is a little scary that with just eight months left Kenyans are still fighting over the impartiality and preparedness of the country’s electoral management body, IEBC. It is also worth noting that there is a non-zero probability that Raila Odinga will not be on the ballot this August; and that this would do very little to reduce the likelihood of electoral violence if the polls lack integrity.

2. Kenyan governors have rejected the proposed manual backups for the electronic voter verification system in the August 8, 2017 General Election. This issue threatens to plunge the country into a period of heightened political tensions over the next several weeks, with the opposition having promised street demos if the government doesn’t soften its stance. There is still hope that cooler heads will prevail in the Senate and deliver a consensus outcome.

3. The Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) is about to be reconstituted. Ethnic Regional balance issues remain. These are rather silly. Ezra Chiloba, the current IEBC CEO, is a very capable man and it would be a shame if he were to lose his job simply because of the lottery of birth.

4. KPMG will audit the voter register which currently has 15.85 million listed voters. Through a court challenge the opposition has temporarily stopped the award of the tender to KMPG. CORD is claiming that not enough stakeholders were involved in the tendering process. I suspect that the real reason is that CORD does not trust KPMG to do an honest job. It bears stating that private firms, including big-name multinationals, have historically not been above being compromised by sectional political interests in Kenya.

On a side note, most observers seem to think that the biggest political career on the line in 2017 is that of Raila Odinga. I disagree. The biggest political career on the line in 2017 is that of Deputy President William Ruto. Politically speaking, Ruto is between a rock and a hard place. He will wield immense political power, and have control over his political future, right up until the August 8th election is decided. Thereafter he will lose control over his political future.

If Kenyatta wins, he will immediately become a marked man. Five more years as number two will definitely grant him access to even greater financial resources and ability to bolster his political power. But it will also invite the envy of fellow elites wary of having to face a powerful and self-disciplined politician like only Ruto can be. In my view, Ruto has the potential to be Odinga and Moi rolled into one — i.e. fanatical mass support and incredible self-discipline and work ethic. Needless to say, this scares a lot of Kenya’s fat cats who’ve grown used to the absentee-landlord nightwatchman presidency of Kenyatta. There is also the small matter that Kenyatta’s base will likely not support Ruto in 2022 for this same reason.

If Kenyatta loses Ruto is toast. The music will stop. The cash spigot will be turned off. His ties to voters and grassroots leaders — which at the moment is almost purely transactional and dependent on incredible levels of personal generosity — will most certainly evaporate. His political base will likely be carved up by rivals, with Bomet’s Ruto and Gideon Moi hiving off their separate chunks for use as leverage for political favors and financial resources from Nairobi.

Ruto’s best chance at winning in 2022, IFF Kenyatta wins this year, is to convince Kenyatta to step down before his second term expires. That way Ruto can serve the remainder of Kenyatta’s term and run in 2022 as an unbeatable incumbent president. Show me a Kenyatta associate who would want to see this happen and I’ll show you a liar.

Of course there is also the possibility that Ruto looks down the game tree, does not like what he sees, and decides to make this year’s election a little more interesting than most people anticipate.