Voter Fatigue May Doom Kenyan Opposition Presidential Nomineeby
Opposition candidate Odinga has lost three previous elections
High voter apathy may aid President Kenyatta’s campaign
Former Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga’s three previous presidential-election losses may hamstring his ability to generate enough public enthusiasm to mount a serious challenge to President Uhuru Kenyatta in this year’s election.
Less than half of the supporters of the opposition National Super Alliance agree with the choice of Odinga, 72, and former Vice President Kalonzo Musyoka as its flag-bearers, the Nairobi-based Star newspaper reported Friday, citing an Ipsos poll. It’s the same ticket that lost four years ago.
“We can expect the same results,” Jared Jeffery, an analyst at NKC African Economics in Paarl, South Africa, said by phone. “Kenyatta is in a strong position.”
While Kenyatta pledges to consolidate the gains of his first term, such as better health care and big investments in transport infrastructure, and Odinga vows to fight corruption and poverty, the election may represent the final chapter of a 50-year-old family rivalry for power in East Africa’s biggest economy. Kenyatta, 55, is the son of Kenya’s first president, Jomo Kenyatta, while Odinga’s father Jaramogi Oginga Odinga was the nation’s first vice president.
Violence surrounding elections in Kenya make them fractious times for investors. The International Monetary Fund has warned the vote may result in slower growth in the $69.4 billion economy this year. The Washington-based lender cut its 2017 growth forecast to 5.3 percent from 6.1 percent, citing heightened political instability during the elections. The rate of expansion slumped to 1.7 percent in 2008 in the wake of the post-election violence, from 7.1 percent the year before.
Odinga lost four years ago to Kenyatta, who won 50.07 percent of the vote, while in 2007 Odinga came second to former President Mwai Kibaki. The opposition said both elections were marred by rigging. Kibaki’s contested victory sparked two months of ethnic violence that left at least 1,100 people dead. In 1997, Odinga came third in an election won by incumbent President Daniel arap Moi.
The chances of unrest in this year’s elections have been heightened by an “extremely polarized” political environment, the National Democratic Institute, a Washington-based advocacy group, said in a report this month. The government has failed to put adequate measures in place to deal with the potential outbreak of violence, it said.
“This is going to be the most brutal elections ever in history of Kenya,” Ndung’u Wainaina, executive director of the Nairobi-based International Center for Policy and Conflict, said in an interview. “It’s going to be volatile and high voltage."
Musalia Mudavadi, who spearheaded the creation of the opposition alliance last year, has said its goal is to transcend the fractures of ethnic politics that fueled the violence after the 2007 vote. The party will introduce a five-member executive that will accommodate all five of the alliance’s leaders, known as the pentagon, including Mudavadi as prime minister with two deputies.
The alliance has similarities to the National Rainbow Coalition that brought Kibaki to power in 2002 because it embraces a broad range of political views, Wainaina said. If it holds, Odinga still stands a chance of victory, he said.
“This would be a replay of 2002,” Wainaina said. “Odinga has history on his side.”
Apathy remains a key obstacle for the opposition, said Emma Gordon, an analyst at Bath, England-based Verisk Maplecroft. To win, the alliance will need to increase its vote in the capital, Nairobi, Garrisa, Turkana and northern Rift Valley, areas where the ruling Jubilee Party has been pouring in resources.
“At this stage voter apathy is high,” she said. “This adds to the ‘Raila fatigue’ and reduces the likelihood that he will be able to win over undecided voters in key swing areas like Nairobi or the north-east.”