2022 Presidential election: Does the tyranny of numbers still hold?

Ford Kenya party leader Moses Wetangula, ANC party leader Musalia Mudavadi, Matungu ANC Candidate Oscar Nabulindo , Wiper party leader Kalonzo Msyoka and KANU Chairman Gideon Moi , at Bulimbo area in Matungu constituency for a political rally.[Kipsang Joseph,Standard]

With less than 500 days to next General Election, conversation and scheming in political circles is on how to cobble formations and coalitions with enough numbers to win presidential ballot in the first round.

Politics is always local and winning elections is about numbers.

The reality check is back with us as the clock ticks to next year’s General Election.

Much as Kenyans will easily come together without care where they hail when it comes to celebrating our sports heroes and heroines, or when hit by a tragedy such as a terrorist attack when it comes to voting they retreat to their ethnic and regional enclaves - of course - with who and what goodies “is in it for us” in mind.

Talk among coast politicians is on formation of regional political party through which to negotiate for positions with other regions.

In Western, it is same old calls for ever-elusive political unity, while a section of Mount Kenya leadership, among them four governors, has declared that their numbers won’t be taken for granted.

Kisii too, has joined the fray with calls for unity and talk of a presidential candidate in 2022. Leaders from upper and North Eastern are also contemplating a regional political vehicle.

Roughly, the country votes in eight blocs (See table below on voter strength according to 2017 IEBC register).

As of now, two names will most likely be on the presidential ballot, Deputy President William Ruto and Opposition leader Raila Odinga. All factors constant, the two will be the front runners.

For the DP to win in the first round, he must retain the same vote that gave Jubilee victory in 2013 and twice in 2017. That means besides retaining his backyard vote in the Rift Valley, he must win no less than two third votes in ten Mount Kenya counties and the same percentage from the Mount Kenya ‘diaspora’ in Nairobi, Nakuru, Kajiado and Laikipia.

That won’t be a walk in the park for him, says political scientist and university lecturer Prof Amukowa Anangwe.

He says while the DP camp may be confident because of the by-election victories in Juja constituency and three wards in Nakuru and Nyandarua, inheriting President Uhuru Kenyatta’s entire vote will be “a tall order if not unlikely”.

“Winning a by-election here and there where voter turn-out is less than 20 per cent is worlds apart from overwhelmingly winning over the entire region and have over 80 per cent voter turn-out which is what enabled President Kenyatta win in 2013 and 2017,” says Prof Anangwe.

Secondly, it also depends on who President Kenyatta fronts and campaigns for in 2022.

“For now, the DP is the only one campaigning. The landscape will change when everybody else throws their hats in the ring”, he says, adding that even though President Kenyatta is a great campaigner in his own right, and has ample personal and State resources to go flat out, it remains to be seen how the ground will shift if he were to take his deputy head-on in Mount Kenya.

At the moment, grumbling by the electorate in Mount Kenya has been that the president is not “seen” on the ground.

BBI goodies

It will also greatly depend on fate and success of the BBI, whose package of goodies promises to address pressing issues in Mount Kenya, chiefly youth employment and money in the pocket of the farmer, says Prof Anangwe.

A former governor in the Rift Valley who requested anonymity, says the DP had better study voter pattern and behaviour in Mount Kenya. “The region votes for their interests and that is determined at the very last minute,” he says.

“In 1992, Mwai Kibaki was sure he had Mount Kenya vote until Kenneth Matiba appeared on the scene and his goose was cooked overnight. But the same Mount Kenya ignored Matiba in 1997 and overwhelmingly voted for Kibaki.

“Come 2002, Mount Kenya rejected Uhuru but voted for him to a man in 2013 and 2017. In short, Mount Kenya votes where they think their interests are best-taken care of. In the isolated by-elections, it is the DP who appeared “caring” to the few voters who turned up. 2022 will come with different circumstances,” says the former governor. Veteran politician Koigi Wamwere agrees.

“It is too early to gauge popularity of the DP in Mount Kenya and its diaspora. There are many variables and a history to consider”, he says.

“Again, you have to look at who his campaigners in Mount Kenya are and their history. Key among them is a former junior administrator in Kanu era who “secured” two ward by-election “victories” in Opposition Central Kenya in the Kanu days. He is an expert when it comes to such make-believe games.”

Prof Anangwe says when push comes to shove, the DP will not get the short end of the stick in Mount Kenya region because of his ethnicity, but because of what other options on the table are, and two, perception the majority in the region hold of him as an individual.

Politics and International Relations Lecturer Prof Macharia Munene concurs.

“There has always been a misconception that Mount Kenya only votes its “own”. In that, it is forgotten Tom Mboya was always the Kikuyu favourite in Nairobi against Dr Munyua Waiyaki, as was Achieng Oneko in Nakuru. And in 2002, the Kikuyu nicknamed Raila Odinga “njamba” (hero).”

He says either the DP, Raila, or any other candidate will only carry Mount Kenya vote once they convince the electorate in the region they will best guarantee their “safety and prosperity.”

Last bullet

For Raila, who could be firing his last bullet by making fifth attempt at the presidency, outright victory in first round will mean keeping his Nyanza vote and running away with huge chunk in Coast and Western. He will also need to keep Lower Eastern vote and snatch away at least quarter of what was Jubilee vote in 2013 and 2017.

And there comes in the Handshake.

Can President Kenyatta secure for his Handshake partner at least quarter of what has been Jubilee vote?

Several factors come into play, says Prof Anangwe.

First is the fate of BBI. Success of the handshake in 2022 is squarely pegged on fate of the BBI. Should BBI prevail and is passed at the referendum as presently constituted, Raila can smile all the way to the ballot.

In the case of President Kenyatta, success of the BBI will make easy his job of marketing Raila in Mount Kenya region and enable him get a reasonable chunk of the vote to turn table tables on the DP.

It will also depend on what Raila puts on the table for Mount Kenya in terms of running-mate or at very least a prime minister, assuming BBI goes through.

The person he picks must also have enough clout to carry Mount Kenya along.

Prof Anangwe opines that the best option for President Kenyatta and Raila is to front a joint candidate from outside their strongholds.

“That way, they will not only best demonstrate spirit and wording of the 9-point agenda in the Handshake deal, but will earn themselves enduring accolades as statesmen and be great deal for stability and prosperity of the nation”, he says.   

Third force

The wild card, if not a spoiler for both the DP and Raila, says Prof Anangwe will be emergence of a third force with enough clout to upset the apple cart.

So far prospects of such are the One Kenya Alliance fronted by party leaders Gideon Moi, Kalonzo Musyoka, Musalia Mudavadi and Moses Wetang’ula.

Should the alliance get roots and flex muscles in 2022, the bigger casualty would be Raila who risks losing Western Kenya, Lower Eastern, and probably Coast. That would expose him.

On the flip side, says Prof Anangwe, a strong third force would also likely result to no outright winner in the first round and a run-off where the DP will square it out with Raila, or one of them with a One Kenya Alliance candidate.

That would see totally different formations, and different math altogether, says Prof Anangwe.