Tight Race Seen in Kenya's Elections With Opposition Turnout Key

  • Run-off possible if opposition mobilizes voters, Verisk says
  • IMF has warned potential instability may slow economic growth

The outcome of Kenya’s election pitting President Uhuru Kenyatta against a former prime minister will be close and may involve a run-off vote if turnout in opposition strongholds is high, according to analysts Verisk Maplecroft.

While opposition support is seen as depressed due to “disillusionment” with main candidate Raila Odinga, the ex-premier who failed in three previous presidential bids, he can still force a run-off if enough supporters are mobilized to cast ballots, Emma Gordon, senior analyst at the Bath, England-based risk consultancy, said in a report.

Raila Odinga on May 28.

Photographer: Simon Maina/AFP via Getty Images

Kenyatta and Odinga have near-equal support among ethnic voting blocs, Gordon said, and if opposition supporters defy expectations and raise turnout in swing counties by 10 percent on Aug. 8, that would spur a follow-up vote. “Kenyatta is unlikely to win by more than 10 percent,” according to Gordon. “This explains why the race appears so tight.”

Violence surrounding Kenyan elections 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 elections. Contested results from an election a decade ago sparked two months of ethnic violence that left at least 1,100 people dead.

Kenyatta, 55, won 50.07 percent of the vote in the 2013 election, beating Odinga, who also came second to former President Mwai Kibaki in 2007. The opposition alleged both votes were rigged. Gordon said a Kenyatta victory will probably “spark urban rioting in key opposition hot spots,” albeit at “levels only slightly higher than seen in 2013.”

‘Pretty Close’

Pollster Ipsos Kenya said Kenyatta and his deputy William Ruto have been unable to expand their support base to more than 50 percent since 2013. That points to an outcome that “will be pretty close if voting is based on ethnicity,” Tomas Wolf, an Ipsos researcher, said in a May 19 interview.

Ahmed Salim, an analyst with Dubai-based Teneo Strategy, said earlier this month that public discontent over rising cost of living in Kenya, which is currently seeing shortages of milled corn, a staple, could help Odinga’s five-party alliance make electoral gains and force a run-off.

“There is still scope for Odinga to eat into Kenyatta’s vote,” Gordon said. “However, turnout and the massive Jubilee mobilization in swing counties are most likely to allow Kenyatta to win a narrow victory in the first round.”

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