Uhuru’s tough balancing act as he pursues Mt Kenya vote

President Uhuru Kenyatta with Kirinyaga governor hopefuls Anne Waiguru (Jubilee) and Martha Karua (Narc-Kenya) )at a presidential campaign rally in the county last month. [Photo:File, Standard]

As the clock ticks to the big day, President Uhuru Kenyatta finds himself is in a delicate political dance in his backyard as he campaigns for a second term.

The stakes are so high that the President has bought into the narrative that independent candidates are good for voter turnout, such that he has opted not to endorse any Jubilee-sponsored candidate for the top county job.

There are at least 20 independent candidates for the hotly-contested gubernatorial seats in Central Kenya counties, where a huge turnout will boost Uhuru’s numbers. These are Nyeri, Laikipia, Nakuru, Embu, Meru, Kiambu, Nyandarua and Laikipia.

The change in tack has seen the President steer clear of calls for the electorate to vote in Jubilee candidates.

“All these candidates are on our side. It is upon you to choose whom you want,” said President Kenyatta in Kirinyaga, where the epic battle pits former Devolution Cabinet Secretary Anne Waiguru against former presidential candidate Martha Karua.

It is a familiar refrain that he has deployed in many a Jubilee stronghold, especially in Mt Kenya region.

Noting that in 2013 the President went over the 50 per cent +1 threshold with an estimated 8,000 votes, the independents are wont to remind the Jubilee leadership that every vote matters, and in the grassroots politics, they are needed to mobilise their supporters to get the crucial numbers to make the difference.

Voter turn-out

The challenge for the President and his deputy William Ruto is that they not only need the numbers but also loyal party members to win the seats at the county and in the constituencies. The urge to control the crucial Council of Governors and the two Houses of Parliament has never been this strong.

The Jubilee political strategy teams are borrowing the wisdom of the leaders of the Kenya Alliance of Independent Candidates led by Kiambu Governor William Kabogo and Tetu MP Ndung’u Gethenji.

The two insist that Uhuru and Ruto ought to understand that if all independents drop out, there’s no guarantee that the Jubilee candidate in any county would have the wherewithal to campaign for the President.

“Independent candidates will do for Jubilee and the President what Jubilee candidates going it alone can’t do, which is, to increase voter turnout,” said Gethenji.

The independents argue that if they are pushed to drop out or are denied an endorsement, or if the President endorses their Jubilee rivals, there will be no reason for their core supporters to turn up to vote for the Jubilee leadership. They say that as they mobilise their supporters, they are shoring up the President’s vote, because if their supporters turn up to vote for them, the Jubilee Party will also bag the presidential vote.

“When you factor in extended families and supporters, the numbers become truly staggering —the stuff all politicians’ dreams are made of. Combine this again with the mood on the ground to ‘elect people versus parties’ and this will undoubtedly usher in a refreshing change on the leadership landscape and above all, set a new precedence for governance against the historical backdrop of traditional political party politics,” Gethenji said in a piece outlining the significance of independents.

It is the same story in Meru where Kiraitu Murungi is flying the Jubilee flag in the gubernatorial race, while Kinoti Gatobu, a close ally of the President, is running as an independent. To complicate matters is incumbent governor Peter Munya, whose party PNU has endorsed the President’s re-election bid.

“I want to let you know I have no problem with anyone seeking votes in the next elections, because these are our people. The final decision rests with the people of Meru. It is upon you to decide,” President Kenyatta said.

Multiple candidates

It is also the same in Kiambu County. When the President toured the county a fortnight ago, the response was the same any time he tried to rally the people behind the Jubilee candidates. Supporters of Governor William Kabogo and other independent candidates persistently disrupted the campaigns by waving placards reading “UhuRuto Sawa. Others: Let the people decide.”

In Kiambu, the Jubilee candidate is Ferdinand Waititu, while the incumbent William Kabogo is running as an independent.

In Nyeri, Nakuru and Laikipia, there are multiple candidates running as independents, but all of them are backing the Head of State.

The President and his deputy had initially asked the independent candidates in their respective strongholds to drop their ambitions in the hope that they will be given government jobs when and if Jubilee wins the next elections.

“It’s not easy to lead a nation without the majority of party members. How can you move or negotiate your agenda in Parliament without majority of your party members,” said the President.

The message has since shifted, thanks to the quest for majority of votes.