For the first time in Kenya’s history, a sitting President is defending his seat against a united opposition.
Never before has an incumbent President’s credit, to use Shakespearean terms, stood on such slippery ground as the one Uhuru Kenyatta finds himself in. Like a cornered deer, he is assailed from all regional fronts by five strong political leaders, all seeking to sign in his spoils. NASA, both in its name and promise, has been sold as the last vessel that will liberate Kenyans from political bondage and deliver them to Canaan.
And their candidate Raila Odinga? The maverick of opposition politics has been offered to Kenyans as “one-last-bullet” candidate, one who must win or perish in political wilderness of old age and ruthless ambitions of younger, impatient opposition colleagues.
When retired President Daniel Moi defended his seat in 1997, all the big men and women of Kenyan politics at the time — Mwai Kibaki, Raila Odinga, Michael Wamalwa, Charity Ngilu, Martin Shikuku, George Anyona, Koigi wa Wamwere, Munyua Waiyaki and Wangari Mathai — raced against him on separate parties. Kibaki, Raila, Wamalwa and Ngilu shared 55 per cent of the vote against Moi’s 40.
In 2007 when President Kibaki defended his seat, the opposition, which had won the 2005 constitutional referendum, split on election year. Kalonzo Musyoka kicked out Raila and his group from the Orange Democratic Movement-Kenya (ODM-K). The official opposition leader at the time, Kanu’s Uhuru Kenyatta joined Kibaki’s re-election.
In the contested results, Kibaki polled 46 per cent of the votes, Raila 44 and Musyoka eight. The combined opposition score of 52 per cent could have vanquished Kibaki had they stuck together.
On the other hand, Kenyatta bears the burden of history on his side. No sitting President in Kenya’s history has lost an election or failed to be declared a winner. In the three post-pluralism incumbent elections, two former presidents have always taken it home by hook or crook.
But no incumbent has ever won his second term with more than 50 per cent of the vote. Unlike his two predecessors who had to score at least 25 per cent in at least five provinces, Kenyatta must get 50 per cent plus one of the total vote. He barely crossed the line in 2013.
In 1997, Moi won back his seat with 40 per cent. Kibaki won it with a controversial 46 per cent. If the precedent holds, a run-off is most imminent. Kenya has not undertaken a run-off election and there is no telling what factors might come into play.