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Aspirants agonise over running mates



Presidential aspirants will have to cast their nets wider in search of running mates in a General Election expected to usher in fresh faces for the Number Two slot.

Running mates are considered presidents-in-waiting, which makes the choice of a winning combination a daunting task for a political party. Of interest, however, is the emergence of ‘marginalised or minority groups’ as attractive options for the position in a system largely borrowed from the American brand of democracy.

If recent events are anything to go by, then statements by some presidential aspirants on their preference for running mates alludes to a pattern that may see ‘minority communities’, religion, gender and youth play a role in the selection of a running mate.

“Running mates should be ideologically oriented towards certain goals and hold interests which resonate well with the electorate,” says Kenyatta University lecturer Edward Kisiang’ani.

While this may be the situation in the US where the running mate concept is borrowed, the situation in local politics is slightly different.

“In our context, choosing a running mate usually goes with ‘tribal calculations’ on how one could best attract votes as opposed to what the candidate’s ideologically is,” says Dr Kisiang’ani.

Ruto choice
So far, those who have publicly made known their choice of running mate are Eldoret North MP William Ruto, who promised to pick Environment minister Chirau Ali Mwakwere (Matuga) if he clinches the United Republican Party’s presidential ticket.

Apart from Roads Minister Franklin Bett who says he wants to be Prime Minister Raila Odinga’s running mate, some individuals who were deemed possible ‘running mates have made it clear they will be vying for the top seat.

Among them is Deputy Prime Minister Musalia Mudavadi, who recently decamped from ODM to UDF. Mudavadi had long been viewed as a suitable running mate for Raila.

Gatanga MP Peter Kenneth has also made it clear he will not settle for a running mate position, as has Justice minister and Saboti MP Eugene Wamalwa.
According to Kisiang’ani, there is likelihood of presidential aspirants in the coming election settling on running mates from groups that have previously been overlooked or merely viewed as ‘passengers’ in the presidential race.

Angling for top seat
“We have about five ethnic communities — Luo, Luhya, Kalenjin, Kikuyu and Kamba — that are fiercely competitive for the top seat. The ethnicisation of the State in Africa makes aspirants from big tribes, directly or indirectly viewed as tribal kingpins, who can secure the interests of their communities.

This makes it hard for them to accept playing second fiddle, hence the swelling pack of presidential aspirants and not too many for the running mate slot,” he adds.

What this also means is that aspirants from the ‘big tribes’ may settle on running mates from ‘smaller communities’ to attract votes . The reverse may also occur where a presidential aspirant from a smaller community settles on a running mate from one of the big tribes.

Kisiang’ani gives various examples of pairings to support his view such as Mudavadi settling on Mandera Central MP Abdikadir Mohamed, should he clinch the party’s presidential ticket. Then there is a possibility of a Martha Karua (Gichugu) and Danson Mungatana (Garsen) pairing.

Also in the race for the presidency is Gachoka MP Mutava Musyimi, who has hinted he could pick a running mate from Western Province. It will be interesting to see whom aspirants such as Uhuru, Raila and Kalonzo will pick as running mates.

Open Society Initiative for Eastern Africa’s Mugambi Kiai says while traditionally ethnic arithmetic has always applied in choosing a running mate, presidential aspirants in the coming elections should think differently.

“The country is in transition and aspirants should remember the next Cabinet will not comprise politicians. They should instead use the opportunity accorded by the new Constitution to begin moving away from this traditional thinking,” he says.

Kiai says besides promoting competition within political parties, presidential aspirants should think of individuals who can help them run a Government.
“They need to start thinking beyond running mates. For instance, who are the technocrats they would like to rope in to form the Cabinet?” he poses.

Opinion on what makes a suitable running mate remains divided, with some quarters insisting on good credentials and ability to run the country.
Those who support this view draw on the examples of Nigeria, South Africa and Malawi where the Number Two’s have risen to the presidency. Nigeria’s Jonathan Goodluck became president when former President Umaru Yar’dua was taken ill.

In Malawi, Joyce Banda took over following the death of President Bingu wa Mutharika.

University of Dodoma’s Amukowa Anangwe refers to running mates as ‘standby equipment’ used, in the US context, to run political chores such as campaigning and fund-raising.

“The experience in the US shows few of these running mates who later become Vice-Presidents are actually involved in governing,” Prof Anangwe says.
Anangwe, a former Butere MP and a lecturer of political science, cites the examples of Richard Nixon who settled on a relatively inexperienced Maryland Governor Spirow Agnew.

Former President Jimmy Carter’s choice of Walter Mondale, was seen as strategic for the former president who had little experience in national politics, while John F Kennedy’s pick of Lyndon Johnson was seen as a strategy to attract votes from the South.

According to Anangwe, factors that determine one’s suitability for a running mate locally are different.

Strong candidate
“While it may be important to select an individual who can succeed the president, this is not the only consideration. If one is a strong candidate who can galvanise votes across the country, then they may not necessarily need a strong running mate,” he says.

However, the reverse is true for a weak aspirant who may need a strong running mate to complement him.

“A running mate should be a ‘soul mate’ of the president to facilitate a harmonious working relationship once in Government and not just any individual capable of delivering votes,” he adds.
The former MP says more aspirants should consider picking women as their running mates in keeping with the spirit of the new Constitution, which is strong on affirmative action.

According to the lecturer, the country has historically seen the number two slot dished out on largely regional dimensions as was the case with Jomo Kenyatta (Central) and his choice of Jaramogi Oginga (Nyanza) as vice.  Kenyatta would later settle on Moi (Rift Valley) who succeeded him as President.

During his tenure, the former President appointed Mwai Kibaki (Central) as his number two, but in a departure from the norm later shifted to George Saitoti (Rift Valley) who is from the same region as he (Moi).

Towards end of his reign, Moi appointed Musalia Mudavadi (Western). The pattern would later be repeated under Kibaki’s tenure with his choice of Michael Wamalwa (Western), Moody Awori (Western) and Kalonzo Musyoka (Eastern).

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