Running mate dilemma for presidential hopefuls in Kenya
Saturday October 30 2021
Kenya’s two leading presidential hopefuls have resisted the pressure to name their running mates early, amid fears of possible falling-out in the new parties or coalitions they are building for the 2022 general election.
The stakes in the position remain high after the courts blocked proposed constitutional changes that would have expanded the governance structure and made it easier for the political elite to negotiate power-sharing deals.
Deputy President William Ruto and former Prime Minister Raila Odinga are, at this stage of the campaigns for the August 9, 2022 election, expected to pick someone from the Mt Kenya region, which is emerging as a key vote battleground. But that might yet change by May 2022, when parties or coalitions are required to formally nominate candidates, with the final decision likely to come down to the number of votes a prospective running mate is likely to bring to the party ticket.
The Ruto and Raila presidential campaigns will also be watching the outcome of the ongoing voter registration and major political realignments by February, when elected officials will be legally free to defect to other parties. Nevertheless shifting political loyalties have begun, with the significant one so far being that of Kirinyaga Governor Anne Waiguru’s Tuesday announcement that she had joined Dr Ruto’s UDA from the ruling Jubilee Party.
Waiguru, a former close ally of President Uhuru Kenyatta and staunch supporter of his Handshake with Mr Odinga, said in a recent newspaper interview that she had at some stage been approached by both camps with an offer of the presidential running mate position. Although she has indicated she would seek to defend her seat, speculation persists that her name remains on the list of those being considered for the Ruto ticket. The Deputy President’s campaign is reported to have run the rule over Karatina MP Rigathi Gachagua, Kandara MP Alice Wahome and Meru Senator Mithika Linturi.
None of the quartet has the profile of a regional political kingpin and would find it hard to rally the Mt Kenya bloc behind a presidential ticket.
Dr Ruto, while not a native son, has been exuding confidence about his personal influence on the local politics of Mt Kenya and appears to believe his popularity will more than compensate for the running mate’s shortcomings. But in an election in which the Deputy President needs a clean sweep of vote in the region to stand a chance of winning the presidency, he will still be worried about the possibility of his eventual running mate pick escalating local rivalries among his Mt Kenya allies.
Mr Odinga, who is President Kenyatta’s presumed preferred successor, appears to be counting on an elite club of wealthy businessmen and politicians with roots in the Mt Kenya region to scout for a running mate. Those who have been linked to the Odinga ticket include governors Lee Kinyanjui, Ndiritu Muriithi and Francis Kimemia, who were part of the former PM’s entourage during his recent exploratory campaign tours in the region.
Cabinet ministers Peter Munya and Mutahi Kagwe and 2013 presidential aspirant Peter Kenneth have also been mentioned as possible running mates for Mr Odinga.
But the narrowing of the running mate search to Mt Kenya is problematic for Mr Odinga, who retains some hope of wooing his allies in the defunct National Super Alliance (Nasa) coalition Kalonzo Musyoka and Musalia Mudavadi back to his fold.
Mr Musyoka ran on a joint ticket with Mr Odinga in the 2013 and 2017 elections and would be keen to drive a hard bargain in any negotiations.
Kenya’s 2022 contenders in no hurry to reveal running mate