Kenya’s presidential election slated for August 9th, 2022 could have been won or lost with the events that happened early this week as the leading political formations unveiled their nominees for the position of Deputy President. According to the country’s election law, the presidential candidate and the candidate for deputy president contest on the same ticket. Monday, 16th May 2022 was the last day for submitting names of both the presidential candidates and their running mates.

Before the candidates unveiling, the two main camps were almost at par, with a block of undecided voters that seemingly would have swayed one way. But as one candidate made a choice that inspired the nation, the other made an underwhelming choice that still leaves more questions than answers and possibly did cost him a presidency he had almost already locked.

In a recent survey, Deputy President Dr William Ruto, who is seeking to replace his boss at State House Nairobi had tied with Raila Odinga, the opposition candidate. Mr Odinga has the support and blessing of the incumbent, Mr Uhuru Kenyatta, as his preferred successor. The poll put both Dr Ruto and Mr Odinga at 42%, with 15% of registered voters. The other 34 candidates could only manage a paltry 1 percent.

Mr Odinga’s Azimio (aspiration) – One Kenya and Mr Ruto’s Kenya Kwanza (Kenya first) coalitions tried to outsmart each other by delaying the naming of the running mate candidate to the last meaning.  But on Sunday, Dr Ruto in a surprise turn of events unveiled an unpopular candidate as his running mate. Mr Rigathi Gachagua who was named as the running mate is a close associate of the Deputy President and hails from the vote-rich Central Kenya region. This region according to polls, was already locked in Mr Ruto’s favour.

Prof Kithure Kindiki who currently serves as a Senator from the Eastern Mt Kenya region was a more preferred candidate. Unlike Mr Gachagua who is tainted with corruption allegations, Prof Kindiki is a respected legal scholar who at one time even represented Mr Kenya at the ICC. The Eastern Mt Kenya region also has close cultural and linguistic ties with Mt. Kenya. Both regions have voted as a block in the past four presidential elections.

It is still unclear how the decision to make Mr Gachagua the Deputy President candidate was reached. From media reports, Prof Kindiki was the preferred candidate among Kenya Kwanza politicians.

Dr Ruto’s campaign agenda which focused on uplifting the common man at the bottom of the pyramid became very popular with young Kenyans. Most of whom are unemployed or work in the country’s growing informal sector. During the last term of the Kenyatta-Ruto presidency, the deputy president focused on campaigns to succeed his boss leading to friction between them.

While Mr Kenyatta is still respected in his home region of Mt. Kenya, his deputy seems to have endeared himself to the region’s residents and despite the changes that have unfolded in the last few days, political parties allied to his Kenya Kwanza coalition, and specifically his United Democratic Alliance party will get a majority of the other electoral seats in the region.

But it seems like it is Mr Odinga who has had the last laugh. The young Kenyans who were sold to the Kenya Kwanza’s “Bottom-Up” economic narrative seem to be trooping to the Azimio – One Kenya side following Dr Ruto’s uninspiring choice of Deputy President candidate.

To make the situation even tougher for the opponents, Mr Odinga has settled on Ms Martha Karua, a firebrand female politician, also from the Mt Kenya region. While Ms Karua’s ethnicity will have little effect in swaying how the residents of the vote-rich Mt Kenya region cast their ballots, she will definitely sway votes among the urban women and youth across the country.

A one-time magistrate, a human rights lawyer and an experienced politician, Ms Karua’s public service credentials dwarf those of Mr Gachagua who despite having served in the country’s public administration and in parliament has been tainted by corruption suits against him and unexplained wealth. Perceptions the Kenya Kwanza presidential candidate has also battled for years.

In a poll by a different polling agency conducted on the day of Ms Karua’s unveiling, Mr Odinga shot up seven points to 39% popularity from a poll conducted by the same organization a month ago. On the flip side, Mr Ruto dropped four places to 35%.

Dr Ruto’s current tally of 35 per cent is a drop from the 38 per cent in November 2021 and February 2022, as well as the 39 per cent in April this year.

For Mr Odinga, it is a steady rise from the 23 per cent in November 2021, 27 per cent in February 2022, and 32 per cent in April, to his current 39 per cent.

– Daily Nation, 18th May 2022.

Ms Karua’s nomination was so significant that she even received congratulatory messages from politicians in the opposing camp.

Ms Karua has already hit the ground running mounting campaigns for her joint ticket with Mr Odinga in her Mt Kenya region backyard. She becomes the first Kenyan woman to be nominated by a leading political party (formation) for the position of Deputy President, and if elected she would be just one step away from the presidency. Her track record and that of the Azimio – One Kenya presidential candidate portray them as a ticket of the progressive.

There is however a last-minute candidate whose real impact is difficult to certain. At the very last minute, former Vice President Kalonzo Musyoka who was also expecting to be named Deputy President bolted from the Azimio – One Kenya coalition to put up his own presidential campaign.

As Mr Odinga was unveiling his running mate, Mr Kalonzo was in a different part of the capital also launching his presidential bid and unveiling his number two. Andrew Ole Sunkuli, a little known politician was selected by the Wiper Democratic Party leader, who has earned a reputation among Kenya’s politicians for being undecided, for the post. Until his nomination, Sunkuli was running for a senate seat in the country’s South Rift region.

The developments that have transpired over the past two days have proven how a day in Kenyan politics can be so long. Last-minute political realignments or miscalculations could cost one a ticket they had already bagged. However, with slightly over two months left to the elections, it is still too early to call it for either side.

Cover Photo by: Azimio Presidential Campaign Team/Pool