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Why running mate choice is make or break affair for Raila and Ruto

 Wiper Leader Kalonzo Musyoka shakes hands with Raila Odinga during the launch of Raila as the coalition Presidential candidate at Jacaranda Grounds, Nairobi on March 12, 2022. [Stafford Ondego, Standard]

William Ruto and Raila Odinga have a few days left to make what is, perhaps, their most consequential decision of picking a running mate.

Of the two, Raila has attracted more scrutiny. Unlike the Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) leader, Ruto probably hardly worries about his Kenya Kwanza Alliance allies pressuring him to pick one of them to as his deputy.

The Deputy President has succeeded in keeping his running mate affairs largely private. The public is yet to hear Kenya Kwanza's version of threats like "No Kalonzo (Musyoka), no Raila!"

The DP's allies in Mt Kenya do not goad him to "remember their sacrifice" as consistently as Raila's Mt Kenya partners do, at least not out in public.

On the few instances Ruto's friends have tried to influence his choice of running mate, they have adopted a reconciliatory tone, at times seemingly pleading, almost reassuring themselves that his pick would be a favourable one.

The perfect example is when Kakamega Senator Cleophas Malala made a pitch for Musalia Mudavadi to be the DP's running mate.

“If UDA (United Democratic Alliance) provides the presidential flagbearer, ANC (Amani National Congress) must provide the running mate,” Malala said.

And perhaps inadvertently diluting his demands, the senator added, "everyone must be placed on a scale and weighed." 

The latter bit of Malala's statement offers an invitation to compare all those primed as possible running mates to the DP.

Express support

Mudavadi's equivalent in the Azimio is, perhaps, Kalonzo, the Wiper leader. Both joined their respective partners quite late in the day and both threaten to spoil the party for Mt Kenya in as far as securing a running mate from the region goes.

The lobbying for Kalonzo's candidacy has been more forceful.

"No Kalonzo, no Raila!" Dan Maanzo, MP for Makueni, has said more than once, a message regurgitated by a section of Wiper MPs.

“We are not blind followers; the region of Mt Kenya expects nothing short of the deputy president. It doesn't matter which part of the region the leader will come from," Nakuru Governor Lee Kinyanjui, a Raila ally said recently.

The circumstances of Ruto and Raila's support in Mt Kenya contrast starkly.

Since 2017, the DP has sustained forays into the vote-rich region, accessing it directly, virtually without showing he needed the help of local leaders.

The result has been that politicians from Mt Kenya region converge around him not just to express support, but to seek political survival from what seems to be a UDA wave that is forming in the region.

Recent mass defections of several Mt Kenya politicians to UDA, and the politicians' insistence on repaying the DP's debt of supporting Uhuru in 2013 and 2017, signal as much.

Raila, on his part, is considered a recent entrant in the region that has always voted to frustrate his previous bids. Mt Kenya allies of the former prime minister seemingly support him out of sacrifice and Kinyanjui's remarks are telling of the same.

Dealing with threats

By such standards, the DP's job of picking a running mate seems more enviable; that Ruto could be sizing up his opponent, waiting to unleash the perfect counter to whoever Raila picks, that the DP's job of picking a running mate is less difficult than Raila's;. But is it?

"It appears so," Macharia Munene, a historian, says. "It could be because Ruto seems more organised."

"Those in his camp seem to be settled that he can pick anyone as running mate. They want Ruto to pick them but they know anything can happen. Raila, on the other hand, is dealing with threats from Kalonzo that it must only be Kalonzo." 

That Ruto is yet to name his prospective deputy suggests that he is hardly having it easier.

Kiharu MP Ndindi Nyoro yesterday said that Kenya Kwanza's most urgent preoccupation was bettering the lives of Kenyans.

"That is why you will not see the sarakasi of Azimio from us," Nyoro said. He, however, did not reveal discussions over the running mate position within the DP's coalition.

"Ruto's running mate must come from the mountain. Before we were joined by the other people, we had our own arrangements... when I demand the running position for central Kenya, I do so on behalf of the people from the mountain. I do not speak for ANC or Ford Kenya," Mathira MP Rigathi Gachagua said recently.

"For me and the people of the mountain, these positions do not matter anymore. The President is from our community and we have suffered more than any other time since independence," Gachagua added, possibly hinting that he was open to accepting whatever choice Dr Ruto makes on his running mate. 

And even though the DP's allies are not as vocal as Raila's, they could be applying pressure behind closed doors.

"There are many ways of doing politics. You could decide to make a fuss about issues or you could adopt diplomacy," Prof Amukowa Anangwe said yesterday.

Prof Anangwe revealed that politicians affiliated to the ANC leader were lobbying to have him named Ruto's running mate.

"As far as we are concerned, we are at a better place to negotiate and be heard than Kalonzo because we created Kenya Kwanza. Mudavadi will be part and parcel of the decision-making process. Picking a running mate isn't exclusively Ruto's job," he said.

The former Foreign Affairs minister argued that they would evaluate parameters such as "who the familiar name is", adding that Raila had a more difficult job picking a running mate than Dr Ruto.