President Uhuru Kenyatta is putting up a fierce fight on two fronts in his quest to secure a second and final term in office even as the latest trends show that his main challenger Raila Odinga is closing the gap on him.
Separate accounts by those familiar with his re-election strategy affirm that while getting the majority of votes against the Odinga-led Nasa alliance was his main aim, attaining the constitutional requirement of 25 per cent of votes cast in at least half of the counties was also a key part of the plan two months to the General Election.
Article 138, Section 4(b) of the Constitution of Kenya stipulates that a candidate shall be declared elected as President if s/he receives at least 25 per cent of the votes cast in more than half of the counties, which translates to 24 counties out of 47.
This could explain the deliberate push by Mr Kenyatta and his deputy William Ruto to target parts of the country they consider battle grounds.
Counties in western Kenya, Nyamira and Kisii, which according to a recent internal situational report by the party are not as forthcoming as had earlier been projected, are being accorded closer attention.
As a corrective measure, a team of elites from western Kenya led by among others Prof Tom Namwamba, a brother of Budalang’i MP and former ODM secretary-general Ababu Namwamba, backed by politicians such as Chris Okemo, Ben Washiali and Kenneth Lusaka, has been tasked with delivering the western Kenya vote to Mr Kenyatta.
In its presidential campaign calendar, the President’s party lists Trans Nzoia, Kisii, Nyamira, Samburu, Marsabit, Bungoma and Kuria as some of the swing counties where he will be focusing his attention.
But Mr Kenyatta’s allies hold that the country is yet to see the best of their man in the campaign trail. “We will spare no county. We will comb every hamlet,” said Senate Majority leader Kithure Kindiki.
“In the end, this will take care of those minimum requirements that the Constitution stipulates but our targets are higher,” the professor, who is among the president’s strategists, added.
An analysis of 2013 presidential results shows that Mr Odinga defeated Mr Kenyatta in five out of the former eight provinces but the Jubilee candidate opened a huge margin especially in his Central and Rift Valley support bases which saw him declared winner with 6,173,433 votes — about 800, 000 more than the then Cord candidate.
One of the dangers each camp is also trying to avoid is a hung Parliament in the event of victory. This is a scenario where the President’s party fails to achieve thr majority stake in one or both Houses.
Jubilee vice-chairman David Murathe, however, lists counties in Ukambani — the Nasa running mate Kalonzo Musyoka’s stronghold — and the Coast as areas where President Kenyatta will not only achieve 25 per cent but also get a decisive victory.
“We might actually get more votes there (Ukambani) than Raila. Wajir was an Orange county but today it is all Jubilee after the leaders trooped to join us. Now tell me, can you defect to a losing army?” he posed.
He added: “We have made inroads in places we didn’t do well in last time. Today, we have key lieutenants in regions like western which were solidly behind Raila then.”
He said they have their machinery trained on Kisii and Kuria as part of their onslaught in Nyanza region where Mr Odinga comes from.
Jubilee boasts of State machinery at its disposal and there is no denying that on this, Nasa must work overtime to come closer to this in terms of resource mobilisation even though Mr Musalia Mudavadi vows that they will spare no resources to give Mr Kenyatta a run for his money.
The Nasa campaign team led by Mudavadi is also promising a bruising fight.
“We will have our teams manoeuvre to cover the whole country. You will be surprised how our in-tray is overflowing with creative ideas from all levels and status of Kenyans. They are volunteering ideas and their time. Ours is a people-driven campaign,” he said.
Mr Kenyatta has also invested heavily in the online platforms to reach out to voters who may not be reached in the “ground-offensive.”
With a cloud of being a one-term president hanging over his head, the scion of Kenya’s founding president Jomo Kenyatta is expected to fight like a wounded buffalo since he carries with him the twin ambition of Mr Ruto succeeding him in 2022.
A loss would send the pair scampering for political safety. At 56, he would also be the youngest former Head of State given that Mr Daniel arap Moi and his successor Mwai Kibaki are 93 and 86 years respectively. His lieutenants say Mr Kenyatta will be seeking to reignite the kind of enthusiasm his support base had in 2013 when the crimes against humanity cases he was facing at the International Court was the main rallying call. The cases relating to the post-election skirmishes in 2007-2008 have since been dropped.
He hopes to secure victory by achieving optimal voter turnout in his strongholds while eating into what has been christened battleground counties.
Jubilee Secretary-General Raphael Tuju downplayed the latest Ipsos poll which indicated that Mr Odinga was commanding 32 per cent of Rift Valley support, an area perceived to be firmly under Jubilee’s stronghold.
“Polling is not an exact science. There are many variables such as sample size and aspects of methodology and a lot of times, they do not get it right – refer to US elections last year when all the major polling firms gave Hillary Clinton a lead, the same happened in the case of Brexit. As Jubilee, we are not spending time on such polls, we are only interested in the August 8 poll,” he said.
The same poll showed that Mr Odinga had narrowed the gap with Mr Kenyatta down from 30 per cent approval to 42 per cent compared to 47 per cent by the President.
This is partly explained by the fact that Nasa had not settled on a single candidate then.
Political commentator Joshua Kivuva says more pressure to win is on the deputy president than it is on his boss.
“The stakes were higher in 2013 and not now. Their personal freedom was on the line (ICC cases). The loss at the ballot would be more devastating on Ruto than Uhuru since he needs the victory as a launch pad for his 2022 State House ambition.”
Nevertheless, he also points out that so far things are working in Mr Kenyatta’s favour.
“Unlike Raila who is antagonising his support base with the “six piece” gospel, you have seen Uhuru embrace those from fringe parties. I have yet to hear him admonish independent candidates. This will help boost voter turnout in his favour,” Dr Kivuva said.
Opinion is divided on whether the gains Mr Odinga had made in Rift Valley were attributable to the ongoing security crackdown in parts of Baringo and Laikipia where residents may be feeling that the government was out to disenfranchise them.
Another school of thought for the reported surge is the move by Isaac Ruto, the Bomet Governor, to join forces with Nasa.