The race to State House has committed presidential aspirants to cutthroat competition, with most criss-crossing the country in helicopters to popularise their bids.
It is a mad rush that perhaps exposed Internal Security minister and PNU presidential aspirant George Saitoti to calamity two weeks ago. Even as he boarded the ill-fated chopper, alongside Assistant Minister Orwa Ojode, Saitoti was not the only high-profile politician at Nairobi’s Wilson Airport.
Others, including Prime Minister Raila Odinga, were also headed to the countryside for campaigns. With their diaries full every weekend, Wilson Airport has lately become a busy dispatch point for presidential aspirants and their campaign teams.
They gather in the morning to fly out to different corners of the country for campaigns fashioned as funerals, funds drives or home-coming parties. Yet still other political parties have separate aspirants campaigning independently for a nomination ticket. This is the case with the United Republican Party (URP), where Eldoret North MP William Ruto and his Lugari counterpart, Cyrus Jirongo, are battling it out for the nomination slot.
Mr Jirongo, who occasionally meets his competitor at Wilson Airport en route to their separate locations, concedes the campaign is a laborious and expensive affair. He has lately claimed that Mr Ruto enjoys funding from State House operatives. The relationship between the two is no longer rosy.
With a couple of months left to the polls, presidential aspirants are leaving nothing to chance. What further makes the campaigns intense are provisions of the new Constitution, which make it hard for one to be eligible to vie for president, and even harder to be declared president-elect.
Besides obtaining endorsement of 2,000 voters from at least 24 of 47 counties before getting clearance from the electoral body to run for presidency, one must command an absolute majority of the national vote.
Even more challenging is the requirement that a candidate must garner 25 per cent of the votes cast in at least 24 counties to be declared president-elect. Owing to the high threshold and competition expected in a crowded field, many have opted for helicopters to traverse the airspace in a bid to cover the expansive country within the remaining few days. The PM, Vice-President Kalonzo Musyoka, Deputy Prime Ministers Uhuru Kenyatta and Musalia Mudavadi, assistant minister Peter Kenneth, and MPs Ruto and Jirongo all travel by air. Alongside their campaign teams, largely made up of MPs, the hopefuls fork out millions weekly to hire choppers.
Meanwhile, Mudavadi, who entered the race recently after pulling out of the Orange party, hopes to combine the chopper tours and whistle stops. The latter is a campaign style where the candidate makes a series of brief roadside appearances and speeches to a small number of supporters.
“The DPM is interested in meeting and engaging with the people directly, hence this strategy. And unlike choppers where one parachutes into a location for a rally and on to another, whistle stops offer a better meet-the-people opportunity and in the long-run allow an even bigger area coverage,” says Mr Kibisu Kabatesi, Mudavadi’s spokesman.
Noting that the country is expansive, Konoin MP Julius Kones, who has set his eyes on the Governor’s seat in Bomet County, opines that contenders for the presidency have a huge task ahead.
He says presidential aspirants have little time left to comb all villages and interact with the country’s 40 million people.