Raila's odds in his bid to fill the missing numbers



The recent announcement by Rift Valley MPs allied to Eldoret North MP William Ruto that they intend to form their own political party poses a fresh challenge for Prime Minister Raila Odinga’s 2012 presidential quest: Compensating for the votes that will would lose.

Had the Kalenjin stuck with him, Raila would only need to hunt for about 500,000 votes – roughly the margin with which he lost to President Kibaki in the contested 2007 General Election – on top of what he garnered to cruise to State House.

But as a result of the Ruto-led rebellion against him in Kalenjin land, it will now require him to hunt for more than 1.5 million votes to replace the restive Kalenjin votes if he is to be a resident in State House.

So what would be Raila’s options in this regard?

Given that all the other regions that supported his bid in 2007 are still solidly behind him, and assuming that Ukambani that supported Kalonzo will still do so in 2012, then the most likely place Raila would cast his eyes would be President Kibaki’s central Kenya.

Open field

"Unlike other regions, central Kenya does not have a clear choice as yet on who will lead them in to 2012 elections," said Nairobi Metropolitan Minister and Ndia MP Njeru Githae.

"It is an open field for all contestants and everybody qualifies to be heard. Despite what you hear, don’t assume that we have already picked somebody," he added.

So if Raila should make a play for the central Kenya vote, as most people think he will do, how easy or difficult is it going to be for him to win support from a region that is perceived to be only supportive of their own candidates?

First he has to contend with other presidential hopefuls from the region, including Kibaki’s supposed heir apparent, Uhuru, and Martha Karua – the front-runners for the estimated five million Gema vote.

However, when Gema met in Nairobi last week there was some light at the end of the tunnel for presidential hopefuls. The influential tribal association said it would look for a suitable candidate from within Mt Kenya region and also outside their region. Githae echoes these sentiments saying they would consider choosing anyone else irrespective of tribe, provided their interests are guaranteed namely: protection of their businesses, land, employment, and the welfare of the diaspora.

Some leaders are of the opinion that, as much as it is their right to support anyone of their choice, they need to throw their weight behind a candidate from another community, at least to disabuse the thought they can never support any one else.

"For the sake of national unity, we have given it a lot of thought," said Naivasha MP John Mututho. "But it is up to these leaders to convince our voters. We might talk as leaders but that will not mean much if they do not come to the ground."

Those optimistic of the Langata MP making inroads in Gema point to the fact that he was also considered unelectable among the Kalenjin yet the community voted for him massively in 2007.

In recent times Raila has had a more cordial working relationship with Kibaki, a factor that seems to be helping his 2012 cause. This working relationship is best exemplified by their joint push for the adoption of the new Constitution.

However, a close political associate of Uhuru, who asked to remain anonymous, said it would be more difficult for Raila to penetrate Central Province with the new laws.

"I do not see how he will make it. First he has little or no support here. He does not have any ground support to talk of. Should we decide to, let’s say, go with the Kalenjins, what chance will he have?" he posed

It is important to keep in mind, as lawyer and political commentator Kipchumba Murkomen points out, the dynamics of the 2012 polls have changed a great deal with the passing of the new Constitution.

Best bet

A prominent businessman from the region, who asked not to be named said: "There was a time when talking about "President Raila" in Central was almost an anathema. I cannot say he is popular either, but I can tell you that at least people now tolerate the idea that he could also lead this country."

He, however, points out that this change of heart seems to have occurred largely at the urban middle class and is yet to gain ground at the local grassroots level.

Former ODM chief of protocol Tony Gachoka says Raila’s best bet in getting Central vote lay in getting hold of former Mungiki leader Maina Njenga.

"With Njenga and his group (Mungiki), he was assured of 20-30 per cent support. But since he has lost him, I don’t think he has an entry point left to central," he said.

Fiery Karua has repeatedly insisted that she is not going to form alliances with anyone, while Uhuru and Saitoti have never shown, either directly or through their political proxies, interest of future alliances with the PM.

Nominated MP Rachel Shebesh said that the best option is to go to the voters of central Kenya directly rather than through proxies.

"That strategy has worked for him in the past, it allows him to develop grassroots connection."

But given the ethnic nature of Kenya’s politics, pragmatic political observers note that it might be difficult for Raila to completely gain the whole support of central Kenya estimated at five million votes.