Would unpopular policies cost Ruto re-election?

Saturday June 17 2023

President William Ruto greets the crowd from behind a bulletproof glass at the Moi International Sports Center Kasarani in Nairobi, Kenya on September 13, 2022. PHOTO | SIMON MAINA | AFP


Kenya's President William Ruto appears to be a man under pressure as he plays down concerns over unpopular policies and broken campaign promises.

The 56-year-old President said earlier this week that concerns over a second term in 2027 would not stop him from making the tough decisions he believes are necessary to grow the economy and improve livelihoods of Kenyans, mainly the poor.

“I’m not here so that I can have a second term, I am here because I want to make a difference… I’m focused on the promises I gave to Kenyans; the second term will sort itself out,” he told an urbanisation forum in Naivasha on Wednesday.

President Ruto, who campaigned for last year’s presidential election on a populist platform to uplift the poor and reduce the cost of living, disclosed some people [presumably political advisers had told him to think about the implications of some of his policies for a second term.

None of Kenya’s past three presidents who have served in the constitutional-terms-limit era beginning 1992 has failed to secure a second term.

Read: Kenya’s change of guard: Why neighbours watch every step


But the country’s presidential elections are increasingly being closely contested, with only about 200,000 votes or barely two percentage points separating the winner and the second-placed candidate in the 2007 and the 2022 races, for example.

The outcomes of the country’s past four presidential elections have been disputed through violent protests or petitions at the Supreme Court.

President Ruto’s predecessor, Uhuru Kenyatta, became the first president to have his election victory overturned by the Supreme Court in 2017 after judges found widespread irregularities in electronic results transmission and vote tallying.

The approval ratings of sitting presidents also tend to fall significantly by the time of the next election due to grievances over issues such as skewed resource distribution, public service appointments, and corruption scandals.

Ruto, who is only in the nineth month of his first five-year term, has not had much of a honeymoon.

A survey conducted by pollster Infotrak back in February found that more than 60 percent of Kenyans believed the country was not headed in the right direction under President Ruto administration, with the vast majority worried about the high cost of living.

Read: High cost of living roils E. Africa economies

Since then, the public mood appears to have soured even more in the wake of the mass protests by the opposition that caused economic shutdowns in Nairobi in March, ethnically skewed public appointments, media reports of graft scandals in some State agencies and exclusionist remarks by Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua comparing Kenya to a private company where communities that voted for the president are entitled to a bigger share of public appointments and resources.

In recent weeks, President Ruto administration has also sparked public outrage with its proposal of new or higher taxes that critics say will aggravate the high cost of living among households, erode workers’ incomes, and cause business closures and job losses.

The tax proposals in the Finance Bill, including a housing tax on salaried workers’ basic monthly pay and a 16 percent VAT on fuel, are in line to be approved by Parliament after the President’s ruling coalition won the crucial first round of voting in the House on Tuesday.

Trade unions, employer lobbies, trade associations and civil society groups were among those who have publicly voiced their grievances over the Finance Bill. A suit seeking to block the Bill has been filed at the Supreme Court while the opposition Azimio La Umoja Alliance has threatened to resume mass protests.

Little wonder the President’s handlers are beginning to get concerned about his re-election.