By Dominic Opaka
Kenyans are heading to the polls on August 8th 2017. The ultimate price is the presidency. So far, President Uhuru Kenyatta and Raila Odinga lead the pack. This election promises to be the most fiercely contested election.
The factors that will determine who wins or loses the elections are as follows
1. Advantage of the incumbency
This important factor might benefit the governing party in the elections. People perceive Jubilee to have money to spend. It has much cash to splash around. Jubilee has the incumbency advantage, which translates to the spending power.
Going by what we saw during the last election, and when all the coalition partners folded into a single Jubilee party, the wealth on display is appalling. The billboards put up in different parts of the country have dwarfed those of its opponents.
The party has almost monopolized the advertising space in the media. It also has the financial muscles to buy slots on prime-time media programmes to propagate its message.
President Uhuru and his Deputy traverse the country under the guise of launching mega development projects. They fly using state-owned helicopters. The incumbent party also controls the police and other security forces in a country where state agencies owe allegiance to the governing party instead of the state.
The ‘system’ thus works in favour of the governing party. Jubilee, therefore, has the incumbency advantage.
2. The curse of the incumbency
People often talk about incumbency advantage. However, they forget that there is also an incumbency curse. People will not blame the general hardships in the country on the opposition. When there is no water, the incumbent party suffers. Unemployment, power crises and any other form of disaffection or frustration in the country affects the governing party.
Jubilee will suffer incumbency curse and the opposition may gain from it. Jubilee has had its share of major scandals. They include the NYS scandal where millions or possibly billions of shillings have been lost. Kenyans are still seeking answers to what happened to over five billion shillings in the ministry of health.
These and many more unresolved issues have risen at a much higher tempo during the campaigns. Jubilee should know that no party is indispensable. They should learn from what happened in Gambia and Ghana.
3. Infrastructure development
The ruling Jubilee party builds its campaign around infrastructure. Jubilee has borrowed heavily for infrastructure development. They brag about the standard gauge railway, the revival of Pan Paper mills, and expansion of roads across the country. It is not a novelty, but not all voters are sophisticated enough to see governance beyond the building of infrastructure.
For some people, development is what they can see or touch. We cannot blame some of the rural folks. A farmer in a village in Mumias who wants to transport his farm produce to Kisumu or Nairobi cares very little about the exchange rate. Their major concern is transportation. Therefore, if you fix the roads, they need nothing more.
Infrastructure will play an important role in the coming election.
Corruption is the biggest sin of this government. Almost all the campaign messages against the government have an accusation of corruption. Kenyans seem to be very tolerant of corruption. However, corruption will influence the voting decision of some people in this election. This applies especially to the middle and the upper classes in the society.
President Uhuru has presided over a corruption-friendly government. Yet the names of the opposition chiefs also appear in some corruption related issues. People have accused them sometimes of only raise their voices when it is affecting Jubilee but going quiet when it is about their cronies.
5. The appeal of a candidate
Some people vote based on the appeal of the candidate. They vote based on how the candidates behaves or carries themselves.
President Uhuru Kenyatta has a youthful appeal. It is not in vain when he joins in a dance or is caught singing to a Sauti Sol song and doing other youthful antics. President Kenyatta has a strong online presence thanks to his digital team. Yet, some of the opposition candidates have a very limited online presence.
Whoever is not involved actively in social media is likely to lose a huge voting block of young people.
How different campaign teams portray their candidate will also earn them the appeal or disapproval of voters.
6. Fallout from the 2013 Election
In the 2013 election, President Uhuru won with a slim margin. He had 50.51% of the total valid votes cast. He had 832,887 more votes than Raila Odinga did. The latter did not concede defeat. He instead chose to go to the Supreme Court, which ruled in favour of Uhuru.
Raila blamed IEBC for his defeat, a message he has had repeatedly in the past four years. The opposition was bound to remind its supporters of the ‘stolen’ elections and the need to be vigilant.
Therefore, Uhuru will want to win convincingly to dissuade the assertion that he rigged the elections. There will be first-time voters. Yet, based on the prevailing situation, new voters (who are mostly the youth) will shift either towards Jubilee or towards the opposition.
Both Jubilee and the opposition have strong supports among some ethnic groups. Jubilee enjoys huge support from communities in Mount Kenya region and the former Rift Valley. The opposition enjoys huge support among communities in the former Western, Nyanza, and parts of Eastern and Coast provinces.
It is difficult to say who has the edge in swing vote regions like Kisii, Nairobi, and Maasai regions. If one of them faces voter apathy in their strongholds, the other stands to benefit. Each side has a perceived regional kingpin. The kingpin is a point man who will have to work hard to convince the electorate why their side is the best.
8. The running mate factor
How the opposition capitalizes on this arithmetic may help it to snatch some sizeable votes from Jubilee. We already know that Deputy President William Ruto is Uhuru’s running mate, hoping that this arrangement will keep the Rift Valley votes intact in Jubilee’s basket.
The burden for the opposition’s running mate to match Ruto will be opposition’s difficult balancing act. It will determine if they will dislodge Jubilee from the state house.
The opposition may attempt to find someone from the vote-rich region of Rift Valley as a way to divide the spoils between the two parties. If this happens, Rift Valley will be the real battleground and whoever gets a sizeable number is sure of forming the next government.
(First Published on Ureport. This is an edited version)