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Do or die presidential contest for Raila Odinga, William Ruto

Raila Odinga and William Ruto. [Standard]

The August 9 presidential election is hotly contested with one candidate firing the last bullet while the other, the first.

As the 22 million voters cast the ballot, Deputy President William Ruto and Azimio la Umoja One Kenya presidential candidate Raila Odinga know that their contest is history in the making.

If the UDA presidential candidate Ruto wins, he goes down in the annals of history as the candidate that won the Kenyan presidency in the first attempt in the multi-party era.

If the DP loses the election, this will be his first defeat since 1997 when he first contested Eldoret North constituency and unseated tycoon Reuben Chesire.

For Raila, the outcome will be historic, both in victory or loss. If he wins, he will have broken his string of losses that began in 1997 all the way to 2007, 2013, and 2017 elections.

The Azimio candidate has a knack of reinventing himself every electioneering period and just when pundits had written him off after he declared that he had fired the last bullet in the 2017 elections, Raila turned around his political fortunes and today comes out as a strong contestant in the 2022 polls making the presidential election too close to call.

"If the former Prime Minister does not win today's election, then the presidency will have dodged him forever given that he will be 82 years and quite unlikely to contest for the sixth time. If Ruto wins he could be in power for 10 years and that makes the former premier 87," said political analyst Mark Bitchachi.

Mr Bichachi said the intensity of the contest today has been heightened by President Uhuru Kenyatta's decision to abandon Ruto and support Raila. 

"Uhuru has sent shock waves that he was not keen on handing over the mantle to Ruto, this has made the election high stakes, and his position has made the political scene tense," he said. 

The president, according to political risk analyst Dismas Mokua, reneged on his public pledge to back the DP and instead embraced and vigorously campaigned for Raila, who has run against him in the 2013 and 2017 elections before they reconciled in 2018 with the famous political handshake making the polls all-or-nothing.

Mr Mokua said that it does not matter who takes over power because of the precedent of how retired presidents are treated - Mzee Moi was given the honours and benefits of a retired president similar to Mwai Kibaki and Uhuru will be treated no less the same way.

"We have a legislative framework that spells out how retired presidents are treated and the benefits they enjoy, so the treatment of a retired present is not at the pleasure of the incumbent. There is an Act of Parliament that spells out the benefits accruing to the retired president," he said. 

Raila successfully challenged the 2017 presidential results at the Supreme Court. The seven-Judge bench declared that the exercise was marred with illegalities and irregularities and nullified the presidential election.

"Raila is an enigma and he has the capacity to metamorphose like a butterfly and come out stinging like a bee. Raila will retire from active politics at his pleasure not because he has lost an election. He has an emotional and irrational base which gives him the political capacity to influence politics in Kenya," said Mr Mokua.

The contest today is a do-or-die battle between a student and the teacher, former political friends turned nemesis.

Unlike in the previous presidential races where the country has had strong candidates from the vote-rich Mount Kenya region, in these polls, Ruto and Raila are hoping that their forays into the region and the running mates they picked will turn around their fortunes.

In the six elections since the repeal of the one-party state law, the Mt Kenya region has always had a strong candidate(s), late former President Mwai Kibaki and the late former Cabinet minister Kenneth Matiba faced off with the late former President Daniel Arap Moi in the 1992 General Election.

Kibaki battled it out with Mzee Moi in the 1997 General Election before he won the subsequent presidential elections in 2002 and 2007. He would pass the baton to Uhuru for another two elections in 2013 and 2017.  

Ruto has run his campaign with the bottom-up economic model that sells a story of the rags-to-riches story targeting the poor across the country. This has been the traditional campaign strategy by Raila in the last three presidential elections.

On the flip side, Mokua said the Azimio presidential candidate finds himself in a tricky position as he is seen to represent the status quo that he has relentlessly fought against in the past election.