The tough battle ahead for Ruto and Raila as 2022 contest beckons

Deputy President William Ruto (left), and ODM leader Raila Odinga. [File, Standard]

The leading political contenders are locked in a high stakes contest to succeed President Uhuru Kenyatta in elections slated for August 9, next year.

It is especially a tough contest for ODM leader Raila Odinga and Deputy President William Ruto who have fashioned themselves ahead of others.

Raila is yet to formally declare his candidature but it is more than certain that he will take his fifth stab at the State House race.

The 2017 election was to be the ODM leader’s last realistic attempt, according to pundits and observers, with his advancing age and fatigue from the electorate.

Yet despite losing to Uhuru and Ruto in a contested election, Raila lifted himself out of political doldrums in fascinating style using a détente with President Kenyatta and with that becoming an establishment favourite.

The argument against the ODM leader has not changed. Analysts say the 2022 election is turning out to be Raila's most high stakes contest yet.

Other than the individual candidates circumstances, a conspiracy of factors is making 2022 a do or die contest, according to political analyst Tom Mboya.

"That fact of our 'winner takes all' political system also raises the stakes significantly. The winner controls all instruments of State, while the loser may be confined to political oblivion," Mboya said.

Analysts and Raila's allies view the 2022 contest as the closest he has ever come, especially with the support of the incumbent.

The ODM leader is keen to cover new ground and no territory is off-limits. Recently, he visited Ruto’s Uasin Gishu base where he received a rousing welcome. 

Raila has the support of Mt Kenya Foundation and President Kenyatta’s inner circle a constituency that could change his fortunes.

The support carries the promise of systemic support and better financing. The key battlegrounds between the two leaders will be bases that voted overwhelmingly for President Kenyatta and which are now open for the taking.

Raila is on the back foot in Mt Kenya owing to years of a sustained campaign to paint him as a leader against the region. He has been working to undo that.

But while the ODM leader was initially seen as a reformer, he is now largely regarded as the establishment choice.

He has become a solid member of the political elite: his father was a politician on the wrong side of the line for most of his career, Raila has crossed over.

The ODM leader also supports big infrastructure spending from the government as the way to get Kenya’s economy growing again.

ODM leader Raila Odinga (right) is keen to cover new ground and no territory is off-limits. [DPPS]

The question of President Kenyatta’s next move is also hovering over Raila and Ruto.

While Kenyatta is largely seen as favouring a Raila presidency, the matter of the candidate he will support is not a foregone conclusion and some among the ODM leader’s camp still believe that he should cut ties with the government.

It is instructive that leaders from Mt Kenya who were previously single-minded about their support for a Raila candidature are 'weighing their options.'

On the other hand Ruto, without Uhuru's support, is missing one of the key deciding factors of the election. 

Ruto has been ostracized and pushed to the fringes of government. But he is mounting a fightback.

One of the factors working to the DP's advantage is that, according to his supporters, he is the prince that was promised.

While the Jubilee leaders were still a team, Uhuru made it known that he and Ruto had an agreement that he would succeed him. But that heralded arrival is in limbo without the support of Kenyatta.

Heading into 2022, Ruto appears competitive in some of the counties where the race will be shaped.

President Kenyatta’s Jubilee Party suffered key defeats in Kiambu County to parties that had the support of Ruto.

The success of Kenyatta and Raila's initiative to change the Constitution - the Building Bridges Initiative - would have given Raila a leg up by shaping the debate around the elections to the issues being championed by the law change but BBI has been derailed.

But with the initiative floundering, the central issue of the 2022 election has become the economy.

Ruto is promising to reform the economic model to focus more on the bottom rungs of the ladder, to cure the growing inequality. Raila disagrees and promises his own youth-centric approach.

2022 is also turning out to be a high stakes race for Kalonzo Musyoka

Kalonzo has been Raila’s deputy for two successive elections that ended in defeat, he is now under pressure to run. Will he deputies Raila again or will he run on his own merit?

2022 is turning out to be a high stakes race for Kalonzo Musyoka. [Dennis Kavisu, Standard]

Kalonzo's base promises a significant number of votes, but it is also restive.

One Kenya Alliance has held out against pressure to shelf their ambition and support Uhuru.

Political analyst Mboya said the biggest reason the election has so much staked on it is that it is a transition election.

President Uhuru Kenyatta is constitutionally mandated to step down in 2022 after completing two terms.

“That is how it is with transition elections. You saw the same thing in 2002 and then again in 2007. There are political considerations but the transition is to me the biggest thing,” he said.

Mboya argued that due to Raila’s age, the clock was running down on him. The same thing was said about Raila in 2017 but he has defied the belief.

“Because Ruto has served two terms as deputy, his supporters see him as the logical next occupant of the seat,” he argued.

He also said that some of the issues such as the possibility of cases at the ICC do not rank highly in the political cycle since so much has changed.

Similarly for Kalonzo, he is facing mounting pressure from his supporters.

“He is a seasoned politician and is under pressure from a restive support base to make a concrete decision,” he said.