Kenya’s top two contenders to succeed President Uhuru Kenyatta continue to keep their cards close to their chests on running mate choices ahead of the May 16 deadline for submitting names to the electoral commission.
Deputy President William Ruto and former prime minister Raila Odinga, the front runners in the August 9 elections, have reportedly whittled down their shortlist of running mate candidates to about five each – including two former vice-presidents, county governors, and former and serving Cabinet ministers.
Mr Odinga’s campaign team on Wednesday appointed a committee to interview candidates and recommend a suitable running mate for him by May 10, taking advantage of a new window opened by the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) for submitting the names of party nominees for president and deputy president.
The two presidential hopefuls closed ranks to push for an extension of the IEBC’s nomination deadline from April 28.
But none of them wants to make the first move amid concerns about potential falling-outs within their coalition parties and the possibility of handing the initiative to the opponent in the swing and battleground voting blocs.
Mr Odinga’s Azimio One Kenya Coalition Party has been plagued by public squabbling over the running mate in the past two weeks, with former vice-president Kalonzo Musyoka laying claim to the position by virtue of his perceived political seniority, party strength and personal history with Mr Odinga. Mr Musyoka, who was Mr Odinga’s running mate in the 2013 and 2017 elections, gave up his own presidential ambitions and endorsed the latter’s presidential bid a third time in March in a deal negotiated by President Kenyatta.
He initially said his support for Mr Odinga was unconditional, but has since changed tune, warning the former prime minister would lose the election if he [Mr Musyoka] is not on the coalition’s ticket.
Mr Musyoka’s Wiper Democratic Movement party enjoys a fairly loyal following in the country’s Lower Eastern region, Ukambani – a fact he has been keen to leverage in his push for the running mate position.
But Mr Odinga is torn between sticking with his two-time running mate and picking a fresh one from Mt Kenya region, whose huge vote basket is emerging as the most coveted in this year’s election. There is no credible candidate with ethnic roots in Mt Kenya, with President Kenyatta retiring, making the region that has produced three of Kenya four presidents an unlikely swing voting bloc in this year’s polls.
Among those who have been linked to the Deputy President’s running mate are Kirinyaga Governor Anne Waiguru and Tharaka-Nithi Senator Kithure Kindiki.