Kenya’s presidential candidates make final bids for votes as campaign draws to a close

The leaders of Kenya’s presidential election were due to make a last-ditch effort to win the vote on Saturday, ending months of hectic campaigning ahead of the Aug. 9 election.

Vice President William Ruto and Raila Odinga, a seasoned opposition leader now backed by the ruling party, are vying for a chance to lead an East African power center that is battling a cost-of-living crisis.

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

The battle for votes was dominated by slanderous claims of fraud and freebies for supporters who were showered with umbrellas, food and money for attending rallies.

After crossing the vast country in recent months, the leading candidates will run their final campaigns in the capital Nairobi under heavy security: Ruto will speak at the 30,000-seat Nyayo National Stadium and Odinga will speak at a rally at the 60,000-seat Kasarani Stadium. .

The two candidates initially announced plans to speak in the Nyayo Hall on Saturday afternoon, heightening fears of a showdown on Election Day.

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

The fierce race has sparked speculation that Kenya could hold a first round of presidential elections, with many worried that contesting the results could lead to street violence.

close race

Ruto, 55, was long expected to succeed President Uhuru Kenyatta, a wealthy businessman with rags-to-riches experience and a disreputable reputation, but he lost ground when his boss, who can no longer run, teamed up with longtime rival Odinga in 2018. .

Kenyatta’s backing gave the 77-year-old Odinga access to the ruling Jubilee party’s powerful voting machine, but also hurt the reputation of the anti-establishment former political prisoner.

However, some analysts believe that Odinga will emerge victorious in a close race, with Oxford Economics highlighting the fact that he is backed by “several powerful political leaders”, including Kenyatta.

Ruto described himself as “the big deal”, targeting the “dynasties” ruling Kenya, referring to the Kenyatta and Odinga families who gave the country its first president and vice president.

According to the World Bank, he promised to create a bottom-up economy in a country where three out of ten people live on less than $1.90 a day.

Meanwhile, Odinga has made fighting corruption a key element of his campaign, pointing out that partner Ruto is fighting a bribery case.

Evans Odawo, a 23-year-old tailor who attended the Odinga rally, told AFP: “We expect the next president to improve the economy and living standards… we need jobs.”

New chapter

The election will open a new chapter in Kenya’s history as none of the candidates belong to the dominant Kikuyu tribe that has produced three of the country’s four presidents.

Both men tried to appeal to the Kikuyu, who account for about six million votes, but analysts say the economic crisis is likely to compete with tribal affiliation as a key determinant of voter behavior.

With large ethnic voting blocs, Kenya has long suffered from politically motivated inter-communal violence during elections, especially after a controversial 2007 poll that left over 1,100 dead and traumatized the nation’s psyche.

Election preparations this year have been largely calm, with police planning to deploy 150,000 officers on Election Day to ensure security and call on the international community for a peaceful vote.

Since 2002, every presidential poll in Kenya has been followed by controversy over the results. The Supreme Court annulled the 2017 election due to widespread irregularities in the counting process and mismanagement by the Independent Electoral and Boundary Commission.

IEBC, which is required to provide a free and fair survey, insists it has taken all necessary precautions to prevent fraud.