Long after the cheers and jeers from the 2017 Kenya elections outcome die down, winners and losers alike will be reflecting on their performance and what more they could have done to improve their prospects.
In a winner takes all that is Kenya’s presidential system, the opposition National Super Alliance (Nasa) and its candidate, former prime minister Raila Odinga, will be at pains to establish how they performed so dismally compared with 2013 when the race against President Uhuru Kenyatta went down to the wire.
Even allowing for a likely second chance through a successful petition that would usher in a re-run, the opposition would have little time to reinvigorate their strategy which appeared at sea amid indications of infighting and sole reliance on Mr Odinga to mobilise the masses.
“Both sides adopted a strategy to lock-in their traditional strongholds and make in-roads into their rival’s support bases. Looking at the electoral map Jubilee achieved this goal while Nasa could not even protect its turf,” said political commentator Gabriel Muthuma.
Compared with 2013, Jubilee gained ground in Nairobi, Nyanza, Western, Coast, Eastern and North Eastern regions as Nasa failed to shake the incumbent’s bedrock of Central and Rift Valley. Jubilee’s encroachment was not just evident in the number of seats won but also in the increase of votes that President Kenyatta managed in those areas compared with 2013.
Jubilee concentrated on the swing votes where, though they did not get majorities, their pie increased by between 10 to 40 per cent in Bungoma and Coast and even doubled in places like Nyamira and Kisii, as Nasa’s shrunk.
Nasa’s focus on swing votes was not as successful with the targeted areas of upper eastern like Meru, Tharaka Nithi and Embu opting to vote with the government. It also suffered a setback in pastoralist areas with Wajir, Marsabit and Turkana drifting to Jubilee as Narok was shared.
Nairobi, another swing area despite having traditionally voted for the opposition, voted more for the government than it did in 2013 with the governor’s seat being won by flamboyant politician Mike Sonko.
Analysts attribute Nasa’s inability to steal their rival’s lunch to a multiplicity of factors including a disjointed campaign, inadequate funding, principals who did not measure up to the task and overplay of the election rigging theme.
As results from across the country streamed in, it was clear that Nasa had not mobilised its support to get out and vote. Only three of the counties considered opposition strongholds returned a voter turnout of 80 per cent or more compared with 13 Jubilee-leaning counties, which also happen to be densely populated.
The national average as per the presidential poll result was 79 per cent compared with 86 per cent in 2013 but Nasa strongholds registered bigger turnout dips than those in Jubilee strongholds.
“There has been fatigue around the rigging claims and this was a key strategic blunder,” said Michael Chege, an independent consultant on governance and international economics.
Other analysts said casting aspersions on electoral processes was a double edged sword that left a section of voters wondering why they should go out and vote.
Nasa’s campaign strategy, which focused on grievances such as bad governance, corruption, high cost of living and trashing the government’s record also came unstuck against Jubilee’s that dwelt on service, achievements and doling out of more goodies to the electorate. Here the power of incumbency played a big part as Jubilee won more than half of all the seats in contention.