Kenya’s presidential candidates make final bid for votes at end of campaign

Kenya’s presidential frontrunners were due to make their final push for votes on Saturday, capping months of frantic campaigning ahead of the Aug. 9 election.

Vice President William Ruto and Raila Odinga, a veteran opposition now backed by the ruling party, are battling for the chance to lead the East African powerhouse as it grapples with a cost crisis. life.

Previous polls have been marred by violence and continue to cast a shadow over the country, where 22.1 million voters will now choose the next president as well as senators, governors, lawmakers, representatives and some 1,500 government officials. county.

The battle for votes has been dominated by allegations of rigging and a free boon for supporters, who have been deluged with umbrellas, groceries and cash to attend rallies.

After criss-crossing the vast country in recent months, the leading candidates will hold their final campaigns in the tightly-secured capital Nairobi, with Ruto speaking at the 30,000-seat Nyayo National Stadium and Odinga addressing a rally at Kasarani Stadium, which can accommodate 60,000.

The two candidates had initially announced their intention to speak at the Nyayo site on Saturday afternoon, stoking fears of a confrontation on pre-election day.

Lawyers David Mwaure and George Wajackoyah – an eccentric former spy who wants to legalize marijuana – are also in the fray.

The hard-fought race has sparked speculation that Kenya could see its first presidential run-off, with many fearing a dispute over the result could lead to street violence.

Tight race

A wealthy businessman with a wealthy background and an obscure reputation, Ruto, 55, was long overdue as President Uhuru Kenyatta’s successor, but lost ground when his boss – who can no longer run again – stepped down. paired with longtime rival Odinga in 2018.

Kenyatta’s endorsement gave Odinga, 77, access to the powerful electoral machinery of the ruling Jubilee Party, but also dealt a blow to the former political prisoner’s anti-establishment credentials.

Nonetheless, some analysts believe Odinga will emerge victorious in a tight race, with Oxford Economics pointing to the fact that he has the backing of “several influential political leaders”, including Kenyatta.

Ruto presented himself as “the chief hustler”, targeting the “dynasties” that rule Kenya – a reference to the Kenyatta and Odinga families, who gave the country its first president and vice president.

He promised to establish a “bottom-up” economy in a country where three in ten people live on less than $1.90 a day, according to the World Bank.

Odinga has meanwhile made the fight against corruption a key focus of his campaign, pointing out that Ruto’s running mate is fighting a corruption case.

Evance Odawo, a 23-year-old tailor attending the Odinga rally, told AFP: “We expect from the next president that the economy will improve and the standard of living will also…we need jobs”.

New chapter

The election will open a new chapter in Kenyan history, with none of the candidates belonging to the dominant Kikuyu tribe, which has produced three of the country’s four presidents.

Both men sought to appeal to the Kikuyu, who make up around six million votes, but analysts say the economic crisis will likely compete with tribal allegiances as a key factor in voter behavior.

With large ethnic voting blocs, Kenya has long suffered from politically motivated communal violence at election time, especially after a disputed ballot in 2007 where more than 1,100 people died, scarring the nation’s psyche.

The run-up to this year’s poll has been largely quiet, with police planning to deploy 150,000 officers on polling day to provide security and the international community calling for a peaceful vote.

Since 2002, every Kenyan presidential election has been followed by a dispute over the results. The Supreme Court annulled the 2017 elections due to widespread irregularities in the counting process and mismanagement by the Independent Electoral and Borders Commission.

The IEBC, which is under pressure to ensure a free and fair ballot, insists it has taken every precaution to prevent fraud.