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Raila, Ruto walk a tight rope in search of running mates

POLITICS
By Moses Nyamori | October 24th 2021

Deputy President William Ruto with ODM leader Raila Odinga at Jomo Kenyatta International Stadium Kisumu during Madraka day celebrations on June 1, 2021. [Collins Oduor, Standard]

Presidential front runners are in a tight spot in picking running mates amid growing pressure from Mt Kenya that the next second-in-command should come from the region.

They appear to have been boxed into a corner by the desire to endear themselves to the more than five million voters in the region, decisions that could cost them support from other regions.

Deputy President William Ruto and ODM leader Raila Odinga have sustained their political forays and are believed to be seeking to pick their running mates from the region in consolidating their support base.

Apart from his home turf of Rift Valley, Ruto enjoys substantial backing in Mt Kenya and has cobbled a team of foot soldiers, who are already jostling for the slot.

In his quest to win, Ruto seeks to retain the original Jubilee Party support base of Rift Valley and Mt Kenya that swept him and President Uhuru Kenyatta to power in 2013 and 2017.

This makes him vulnerable to any decision that may upset the region or cause a fallout in his inner circles.

At the same time, the DP is at risk of upsetting other regions like Coast and Western – where he has won over a section of leaders – by making them feel they are not part of his political arithmetic if he chooses to pick a running mate from Mt Kenya.

Raila also faces a similar dilemma. His deal with Uhuru and a desire to flip over the region’s support in his favour pushes him into considering the region for the plum role.

Again, failing to pick a running mate from the region would work in the favour of his main challenger, DP Ruto, assuming he picks someone from the region for the slot.

At the same time, it could make him lose certain regions that backed him in his previous attempts. Already a number of names have been touted for Ruto and Raila.

For Ruto, there are talks of running on a joint ticket with the likes of Governor Ann Waiguru (Kirinyaga), National Assembly Speaker Justin Muturi, The Service Party leader Mwangi Kiunjuri, Mathira MP Rigathi Gachagua, Meru senator Mithika Linturi among others.

And for Raila, he has a long list that includes governors Lee Kinjanjui (Nakuru) and his Laikipia counterpart Nderitu Muriithi, Agriculture Cabinet Secretary Peter Munya, former Gatanga MP Peter Kenneth and Narc Kenya leader Martha Karua, Health CS Mutahi Kagwe and Nyandarua Governor Francis Kimemia.

Raila had Wiper leader Kalonzo Musyoka as his running mate in 2013 and 2017 polls, with the former vice president delivering the three counties of Kitui, Machakos and Makueni. Kalonzo has since ruled out playing second fiddle to Raila again and has declared his intention to be on the ballot for the top seat.

Should Raila pick a running mate from Mt Kenya, he would be risking losing out the 968,000 votes that he garnered from the three counties in the August 2017 polls.

National Assembly Minority Whip Maoka Maore – who backs a Raila presidency – says for the region to turn out in large numbers to vote, it has to be a key player in the polls.

He, however, avers that it would be tragic for the region to decide on who becomes Raila’s running mate.

Maore argues that such arrangement is to blame for the current rift between Uhuru and Ruto.

“It is our wish that a running mate comes from Mt Kenya because of the numbers involved for pure purposes of turnout in the elections. In the absence of the region producing a presidential candidate, then we have to have number two for the region to feel part of the team,” he says.

He accuses his colleagues of making choreographed demands for Raila to pick certain individuals.

“Speakers being choreographed to say they want a running mate from Mt Kenya East. You heard Murang’a MPs say they want Peter Kenneth. This is an outrageous thinking and a project in futility,” he adds.

According to Nyeri Town MP Ngunjiri Wambugu, the dilemma would be mainly for Ruto.

He argues that picking a running mate from Mt Kenya would work against his candidature as it would mean that the country’s leadership will continue to be in the hands of the same communities for another 10 years.

“He will certainly lose out on other regions if he gets a running mate from Mt Kenya because he will be selling a flip-ticket (Kalenjin-Kikuyu) to what is currently there; a Kikuyu-Kalenjin presidency,” says the MP. Further, in the event he does not pick a running mate from the region, the lawmaker argues he will lose his support base in the region.

For Raila, he argues that having a running mate from the region will earn him a new voting bloc that was not in his bag in the previous polls.

“Raila as a leader keeps most of his historical support behind him. A Mt Kenya running mate gives him a new bloc he’s never had and makes his success nearly guaranteed; which guarantee will keep other communities that would have left onboard,” argues Wambugu.

Nandi Senator Samson Cherargei, however, argues that since the region has numbers, it will guarantee Ruto a round one win should he get the right running mate.

He says that he is certain that Ruto will pick an individual from the region for his presidential ticket.

“What is important in a running mate is having the ability to bring numbers so that the ticket wins in the first round. The person should be well known and enjoys support of the region,” says Cherargei.

He adds: “The running mate of the Deputy President will come from Mt Kenya because this is a game of numbers. It is largely because of the numbers. But it is more than a running mate but what the region will benefit from Ruto’s presidency.”

Similar views were shared by Kiminini MP and Ford Kenya acting Secretary General Chris Wamalwa, who said that the region’s massive numbers cannot be ignored in the presidential election.

He says that the vote basket is attractive since it has no strong presidential candidate and also votes as a bloc to the last man.

“The region has numbers and it is to voting as a bloc. The fact that the region is not fielding a presidential candidate or does not have a strong candidate for that matter makes it a critical bloc in the polls,” says Wamalwa.

Amani National Congress (ANC) Nominated MP Godfrey Osotsi, however, argues that it will require more than a running mate for those seeking the top seat to win the region’s backing.

He says the region will make its decision on the need for more resources to the region.

“I think they will support a candidate who is more consistent on one-man-one-vote-one-shilling policy and is ready to devolve more funds to the region,” says Osotsi.

He adds: “I think Raila, due to his BBI agenda, is ahead of others. Ruto’s opposition to BBI agenda and coalition building may impact negatively on his candidature as we approach the elections.”

Political analyst Tom Mboya says for the DP and ODM leader to fully consolidate Mt Kenya votes, they will have to find someone who has a huge following at the regional level and marketable nationally.

“Given the numbers from Mt Kenya, political and financial influence of the region and that they have held the presidency for so long, they cannot be ignored. It then makes sense for serious presidential contenders to leverage on a running mate from that region,” argues Mboya.

“It’s not enough to say that just because someone has marketability in Central that they are sellable nationally. National appeal is important. It is important to get that balance right so that the rest of Kenyans can identify with that running mate,” he adds.

Political analyst Herman Manyora attributes the scramble for Mt Kenya by the presidential hopefuls to its huge numbers.

“For Ruto, it is because Mt Kenya is his most supportive base and without it his candidacy is dead. For Raila, he is in a deal with Uhuru which is engineered to ensure both principals’ gain. This is why the two serious presidential contenders are likely to have running mates from the mountain,” says Prof Manyora.

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