Kenyan Opposition Choice of Odinga May Weaken Presidency Bid

  • Choice of Odinga, a three-time loser, may boost voter apathy
  • President Uhuru Kenyatta’s ruling party leads latest polls

The emergence of former Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga, who’s lost three presidential votes, as the opposition’s favored candidate may diminish its chances of unseating Uhuru Kenyatta in elections in August.

Odinga, 72, is backed by most members of a technical committee appointed by the opposition National Super Alliance to pick a presidential candidate, a spokesman for the party said by mobile-phone text message on Thursday. The Nairobi-based Standard newspaper reported earlier that Odinga’s running mate would be Kalonzo Musyoka, one of the four principal leaders of the alliance, known as NASA.

Raila Odinga

Photographer: Simon Dawson/Bloomberg

Confirming Odinga as the candidate could result in a double blow for the opposition at the Aug. 8 ballot, according to Dismas Mokua, vice president at Trintari Insights, a Nairobi-based risk-advisory firm. It would encourage residents in central Kenya, where there is antipathy toward Odinga’s perceived anti-business policies, to get out and vote, Mokua said by phone. It might also lead to a lower voter turnout in areas where he has strong support because of his previous failed attempts to win the presidency, he said.

“If I was sitting in the NASA strategy team, I would not want to give voters in central Kenya a reason to go and cast their ballot,” Mokua said. “The moment you have Raila on the ticket, you give them a reason. It also creates apathy among his supporters in western Kenya.”

Presidential Contenders

NASA appointed a team in January to identify its candidates. In addition to Odinga and former vice president Musyoka, they’re also considering Musalia Mudavadi, a former finance minister whose idea it was to form the alliance of opposition parties under the NASA umbrella, and Senator Moses Wetang’ula, a previous foreign minister.

Odinga lost elections in 2013 to Kenyatta, who won with 50.07 percent of the vote, and in 2007 to former President Mwai Kibaki. The opposition disputed the outcome of both of those votes, alleging rigging. Kibaki’s contested victory sparked two months of ethnic violence that left at least 1,100 people dead. Odinga came third in the 1997 election that was won by incumbent President Daniel arap Moi. His running mate when he lost in 2013 was Musyoka.

“In terms of this duo’s past election performance, I would think that the technical recommendations should set the ground for some debate and rethinking of strategy in NASA,” Lisa Brown, an analyst at Rand Merchant Bank, a unit of Johannesburg-based FirstRand Ltd., said in an emailed response to questions. “If the recommendations are followed, a clear strategy on how to they plan to approach the election and win needs to be debated and followed by all parties in NASA.”

Opinion Poll

An opinion poll published by Nairobi-based Infotrak last month showed Kenyatta’s ruling Jubilee Party has about 40 percent of support, compared with about 32 percent for the opposition alliance. About 28 percent of voters are undecided, it said.

The NASA technical committee previously considered the combination of Mudavadi and Kalonzo’s candidacies as a “formidable” ticket, though they would need Odinga to rally his supporters to back them, the Standard said.

“Any combination of candidates that excludes Raila would still have to rely heavily on him to rally his supporters behind him, and excluding him would probably lead to increased voter apathy in important counties rather than increased turnout,” Brown said.

The committee settled on Odinga after concluding that he’s the most likely to garner at least 50 percent of potential votes in ruling-party strongholds, according to the Standard. He will also likely secure at least 60 percent of potential votes from so-called swing counties, it said. With Musyoka as his running mate, the alliance may get an estimated 8.2 million votes versus Jubilee’s estimated 7.9 million, it said.

“Odinga has always been the favorite to lead the opposition alliance into the polls, but some have been advocating for a surprise choice to wrong-foot the confident Jubilee party and boost the chances of the opposition,” Jared Jeffery, an analyst at NKC African Economics in Paarl, South Africa, said in an emailed note. “Some still hold such hopes and have speculated that the reports of a Raila-Kalonzo ticket are being used to test the waters and gauge reactions in key counties.”

— With assistance by Michael Gunn

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