Former Kenyan Justice and Constitutional Affairs minister Martha Karua has emerged as a strong contender for Raila Odinga’s deputy presidential running mate ahead of the May 16 deadline for presidential candidates to submit the names to the electoral commission.
Ms Karua, a veteran of Kenya’s pro-democracy movements of the 1990s, reportedly ranks highest on the shortlist of three people recommended for the running mate position to Mr Odinga by a panel he appointed to interview prospective candidates.
She also leads former vice-president Kalonzo Musyoka and Peter Kenneth, a former Member of Parliament — the other names on the selection panel’s shortlist — in approval ratings for the position, according to the results of an April opinion poll commissioned by the Nation Media Group, the publishers of The EastAfrican.
Mr Odinga, the opposition leader who is making his fifth presidential bid in the August 9 election with the backing of President Uhuru Kenyatta, is expected to still have the final say on who becomes his running mate in his Azimio One Kenya coalition. Deputy President William Ruto, the other front-runner in the race to succeed President Kenyatta, is also believed to have at some point toyed with the idea of picking a female running mate.
But the woman most commonly linked with the position in Dr Ruto’s Kenya Kwanza coalition – Kirinyaga county governor Anne Waiguru — ranked fairly poorly in the Nation opinion poll, coming a distant third behind her male rivals Musalia Mudavadi and Kindiki Kithure.
Matching up Ms Waiguru and Ms Karua as running mates would see them extend their fierce local rivalry to the national stage — the two having contested the Kirinyaga gubernatorial seat in the 2017 election. In what is easily the longest saga of election-related legal grievance, Ms Karua challenged Ms Waiguru’s victory all the way to the East African Court of Justice where judges found that the Kenyan courts infringed on her rights to fair trial and awarded her $25,000 in damages.
The two are likely to face off again in the Kirinyaga governor race in the event one or both of them miss out on the deputy presidential nomination.
Ms Karua’s rising stature in Mr Odinga’s coalition has particularly stirred up a buzz within Kenya’s women rights movement, which has stepped up its lobbying of the leading presidential hopefuls to pick female running mates.
On Thursday, she was the centre of attraction at an event to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the Maendeleo Ya Wanawake Organisation, the umbrella body for grassroots women’s welfare groups, in Kisumu. Ida Odinga, the spouse of the Azimio coalition’s presidential hopeful, was the chief guest at the event. Women hold 21.8 percent of the seats in the current Kenyan parliament.
The electoral commission, under pressure from the women rights lobby, recently rejected the lists of persons nominated by political parties for special seats such as youth, women and people living with disabilities for non-compliance with the two-thirds gender rule.
Political parties also set the stage for a better gender balance in the next parliament by handing direct nomination to selected female candidates in their strongholds in the recent primaries, enhancing their chances of winning.