By OTIENO OTIENO
The official campaign period for Kenya’s August 9 elections ends Saturday, with Deputy President William Ruto and former Prime Minister Raila Odinga being the clear front runners in the race to succeed retiring President Uhuru Kenyatta.
The two candidates made their final pitches, 17 kilometres from each other, on the same day during large public meetings at Nyayo Stadium and Kasarani Stadium in Nairobi, looking to rally huge turnouts in their respective support bases as well as try to coax undecided voters.
Opinion polls in the last week put Mr Odinga, the opposition leader who is being backed by the outgoing president, in the lead by between two and eight percentage points.
But there may yet be a twist in the tale, given the significant number of undecided voters believed to be still out there and the experience of some pollsters getting it wrong in recent elections.
A majority of the undecided voters were found to be in Mt Kenya, Coast and Western regions, explaining both Dr Ruto and Mr Odinga intensifying their campaigns there in recent days.
The absence of a strong third force has increased the chances of an outright or first-round win by either Mr Odinga or Dr Ruto. The recent excitement around the candidacy of marijuana champion George Wajackoyah appears to have vanished in a puff of smoke, making a run-off presidential election highly unlikely.
A candidate needs to garner 50 percent plus one of the votes cast and 25 percent of votes cast in 24 out of the country’s 47 counties to be declared the winner in the first round.
The Independent and Electoral Boundaries Commission (IEBC) has up to a week after voting to declare a winner, but it has tended to do so by the third day. And going by the turnout in the 2013 and 2017 elections, analysts project a candidate will need between 8.63 million and 9.6 million of the 22,120,458 registered voters to cast their ballots for him to win the race.
After flying dangerously close to political and economic instability in the disputed past three elections, the perfect scenario for Kenya would be a first-round victory by either candidate and the loser conceding.
Another election dispute?
But that increasingly looks unlikely considering the high rate of grievances expressed by the candidates in the run-up to this year’s elections as well.
Dr Ruto, who has bitterly fallen out with President Kenyatta over the latter’s perceived betrayal in supporting an opposition candidate, has repeatedly alleged a vote-rigging scheme in favour of Mr Odinga involving the use of State resources.
In recent days, the Deputy President has stepped up personalised attacks on President Kenyatta for having come out to publicly decampaign him and allegedly planning vote suppression in Rift Valley and central Kenya where Dr Ruto enjoys strong support.
For his part, Mr Odinga remains deeply suspicious of the integrity of the technology being deployed by the IEBC to identify voters at polling stations and transmit results to the vote tally centre.
On Thursday, a court in Nairobi ordered the IEBC to provide back-up manual voter registers at polling stations to be used for voter identification in case of biometric kit failures following a suit by Mr Odinga’s legal team.
Also read: Kenya elections: The technology headache
Supreme Court round three
In the highly unlikely event that the losing candidate concedes, the President-elect will be sworn into office in the last week of this month.
But similar pre-election grievance mongering preceded the Supreme Court petitions challenging the outcome of the 2013 and 2017 polls and another round of legal showdown could be on the cards.
Any campaign team working on a petition will, no doubt, be encouraged by the fact that the Supreme Court judges, in a landmark judgment, nullified the results of the last election, forcing a repeat election in October 2017.