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Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Uhuru, Raila battle for swing votes

President Uhuru Kenyatta and Deputy Willliam Ruto greet residents of Kiambu during a meet-the-people tour of the area on Sunday. /REBECCA NDUKU/DPPS
President Uhuru Kenyatta and Deputy Willliam Ruto greet residents of Kiambu during a meet-the-people tour of the area on Sunday. /REBECCA NDUKU/DPPS

Both President Uhuru Kenyatta and ODM candidate Raila Odinga are focussing their attention on swing votes as they consolidate their strongholds, five weeks to the election.

The plan by both candidates is to ensure that their strongholds turn out, almost to the last man and woman, to vote for them as they seek swing votes from regions their strategists describe as battlegrounds.

Bomet, Narok, Kisii, Meru and Tharaka Nithi are among the 13 counties that have become the epicentre of a ferocious political battle between Kenyatta and Odinga. Of the 13 swing counties, Odinga won seven counties at the last election, while Uhuru ran away with six.

Kenyatta beat Odinga in Isiolo, garnering 26,401 against Raila’s 14,108, in Mandera he got 94,433 against Raila’s 4,366, while in Kajiado Uhuru led by 138, 851 against Raila’s 117,856.

Kenyatta also beat Odinga in West Pokot, garnering 79,772 against 24,952.

However, Odinga beat Kenyatta in Nairobi by 691,156 against 659,490, Turkana 68,402 against Uhuru’s 30,285, Samburu 31,086 against 22,085, Trans Nzoia 92,035 against 74,466, Wajir 49,712 against 38,927, and Narok 118,623 against 109,413. In total, Odinga won in 27 of the 47 counties. An internal NASA document claims that the counties where Odinga won in 2013 had a total of 8,373,840 voters, compared to 5,977,056 in the 20 counties won by Uhuru. According to the strategy document seen by the Star, Odinga was disadvantaged by turnout.

The counties won by Odinga averaged a turnout rate of about 83 per cent compared to counties won by Uhuru that averaged 89.7 per cent.

At the same time, where Uhuru won, he won big, averaging 86 per cent of the votes.

Odinga’s average vote share in the 27 counties was a mere 70 per cent.

In what has given birth to the controversial slogan “10 Million Strong”, NASA says if the 2013 voting patterns are maintained, the counties won by Raila currently have 10,547,913 registered voters, compared to 7,556,609 in the counties where Uhuru prevailed.

This means Odinga’s chances of unseating Kenyatta are hinged on turnout.

Raila, who concluded a two-days campaign blitz in Meru and Tharaka Nithi counties on Saturday, the fourth such visit in six months, is convinced that he will get maximum turnout.

“The overwhelming reception we got from those two areas leaves no doubt that the ground has shifted in our favour,” said Raila yesterday. After visiting his home county of Kiambu yesterday, Uhuru will head to Meru to try and undo any gains Raila may have made. Raila is also heading to Western Kenya this week to seek to do the same in the wake of UhuRuto’s campaign tour of last week.

Although latest opinion polls have suggested a runoff, both NASA and Jubilee are pushing for round one victory.

Both sides are going flat out to get the majority votes in the counties of Nairobi, Narok, Kajiado, Turkana, West Pokot, Samburu, Trans Nzoia, Wajir, Mandera, Marsabit, Isiolo, Turkana and Samburu.

Once considered to be under lock and key by Jubilee, Meru is becoming restive and recent events in the area have alarmed the ruling party to the possibility that Raila could be penetrating the region.

In his last two visits, including last weekend, Raila drew large, enthusiastic crowds that have made NASA buoyant.

“If President Uhuru Kenyatta will not change the team in Meru, it will cost him a great deal in this election,” Meru Governor Peter Munya warned recently.

Jubilee’s Meru campaign team is led by Senator Kiraitu Murungi and Igembe South MP Mithika Linturi, but Munya said the two have “lost touch with the voters” and have no clout to deliver votes to Jubilee.

At a recent Jubilee function in Igembe North constituency, Kiraitu, once seen as the region’s political supremo, was shouted down, when he tried to dissuade locals against the former Prime Minister.

In a video recording that has gone viral, the people of Igembe North shouted “NASA!” in what appears to have surprised Kiraitu, who stood beside Igembe North parliamentary aspirant Maoka Maore.

In an interview with the Star, Jubilee Mount Kenya Youth Chairman Linford Mutembei said Uhuru should visit Meru “as things are getting out of hand”.

“He should come in person and camp in Meru for about three days. The President should also form a new campaign team with a youthful face if he wants to win in Meru. Otherwise the majority of the Meru electorates will vote for NASA,” Mutembei warned.

The NASA Coordinator in Tharaka Nithi, Prof Isaiah Kindiki, brother of Senate Minority leader Kithure Kindiki, said the region is tired of Jubilee’s empty rhetoric when the people are wallowing in poverty.

“NASA has not penetrated Meru, it has grown from within,” Prof Isiah Kindiki emphatically told the Star.

However, a recent opinion poll by Ipsos paints a different picture. Released on May 30, the poll indicates that Uhuru would win the Eastern region, that also includes NASA running mate Kalonzo Musyoka’s Ukambani turf, by 51 per cent.

Raila would secure only 36 per cent of the vote, the poll showed.

Last week, Uhuru gave Sh828 million to IDPs displaced 10 years ago in a gesture that has triggered jitters in opposition circles to the effect that Jubilee is bankrolling its reelection bid using State coffers.

But that is not all.

Since their election in 2013, Ruto has visited Kisii more than 20 times. In a deliberate campaign message, Uhuru and Ruto claim to have given high profile jobs to Gusii leaders, among them Education Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang’i and Chief Justice David Maraga.

The latter move however backfired, after the Judicial Service Commission rebuffed the President, saying any implication “that the appointment of the CJ was part of a political scheme is a grave distortion of law and fact”.

In an interview with the Star, Mutembei said the rivalry between Kiraitu and Munya for the county’s top is hurting Uhuru’s reelection prospects in the region.

He urged Uhuru not take sides in the war.

But Kiraitu, through his director of communication Patrick Muriungi, said the perception that NASA is gaining ground in Meru and Tharaka Nithi counties is a fallacy.

He said Raila should not be cheated by psyched-up crowds that he will actually get their votes.

“These crowds will not translate into votes as the two counties will vote for President Kenyatta in the August polls, according to all the voting patterns,” Muriungi said.

He accused ODM coordinator Mike Mutembei of hiring people to shout down Jubilee leaders and attend Raila rallies when he visits to please the ODM supremo in order to get handouts.

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