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Odinga chosen for second Kenyatta election showdown

Odinga chosen for second Kenyatta election showdown

Kenya’s opposition coalition has selected Raila Odinga as its presidential candidate, prompting a repeat of 2013’s disputed polls as he again seeks to defeat long-term opponent Uhuru Kenyatta.

The National Super Alliance, a combined front of the country’s major opposition parties, unveiled the 72-year old Odinga as its candidate for the August 8th vote at a mass rally held in Nairobi’s Uhuru Park. It will be Odinga’s latest tilt at power following campaigns in 2007 and 2013, where he was twice defeated in controversial circumstances. He first ran as a presidential candidate in 1997. Odinga served as Prime Minister in an uneasy power-sharing coalition under former opponent Mwai Kibaki after his narrow defeat in 2007’s polls, in which over 1000 were killed and hundreds of thousands displaced by violence.

Analysts fear this year’s concurrent presidential, parliamentary and regional polls could again be marred by violence and voter fraud as incumbent Kenyatta seeks a second term in power. The polls are expected to be the country’s widest democratic exercise in history, with over 19m voters expected to cast a ballot following a mass registration drive earlier this year. Kenya’s Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission, whose chairperson was only appointed in January, faces major technical and logistical challenges in mobilising for the vote.

In April, an independent audit of the country’s voter list was launched by KPMG in a bid to confirm eligible voters and tackle potential malfeasance. Critics allege that the original list is rife with irregularities, including multiple registrations and dead voters. Primary contests held by both major parties offered little reassurance for those hoping for an incident-free vote, with Odinga’s Orange Democratic Movement and Kenyatta’s Jubilee Alliance forced to reschedule polls following unrest and insufficient ballots respectively. 

Above all, analysts fear that the winner-takes-all mentality of Kenya’s elections, which helped precipitate the deadly 2007 polls, remains firmly in place ahead of this year’s contest.

“What has not changed is the behaviour of politicians and the zero-sum nature of political competition. Though the 2010 constitution sought to change the division of power between the presidency and parliament, the head of state remains immensely powerful, able to dole out patronage to supportive elites. When the president’s party commands a majority in parliament, that institution can be reduced to a rubber-stamp assembly,” writes Murithi Mutiga, senior analyst for the Horn of Africa at the International Crisis Group.

Kenyatta’s Jubilee Alliance is expected to make its economic record a key plank of the re-election campaign. Under Kenyatta’s premiership, Kenya has enjoyed a period of economic growth and overseen further regional integration with its neighbours. The IMF’s World Economic Outlook projects real GDP growth of 5.3% this year, rising to 5.8% in 2018. Odinga is expected to campaign on a ticket of lower corruption and public sector reform, yet few expect the contest to be as tight as 2013.

“Most polls consistently place Kenyatta some 15 to 18 points ahead of Odinga in the presidential race, which is backed by analytical assessments made by our analysts,” says Robert Besseling, executive director at consultancy ExxAfrica.

David Thomas

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Written by David Thomas

David Thomas is chief features writer at African Business Magazine. He has also been published at the Financial Times, the Wall Street Journal and South Africa's Cape Times.

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