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Odinga rebounds with new coalition plan

As the campaign heats up between the two frontrunners, the focus is on who they can draw into their rival alliances

In the rollercoaster race for the presidency in August's elections, veteran oppositionist turned establishment candidate Raila Odinga has made a good start in the new year by bringing in some useful new allies.

At his latest sports-style political rally in Kakamega on 31 December, Odinga locked in the endorsement of the Luhya community's political leaders, with one major exception, Amani National Congress leader, and potential kingmaker, Musalia Mudavadi. 

The role of Mudavadi, who avoided attending Odinga's campaign launch earlier this month, could be critical. An opinion poll by Infotrak, a Nairobi-based market research company, suggests that 46% of Kenyans want Mudavadi to be the running mate – whether for Odinga or William Ruto as presidential candidate.

That follows an Infotrak poll of over 1,600 people giving Odinga a 33% to 32% lead over Deputy President Ruto. Previous surveys, all conducted before Odinga had declared his candidacy, had given Ruto a lead of at least ten points (AC Vol 62 No 24, Deputy President Ruto steals a march on his rivals). 

The poll also points to the last rites for the Jubilee party formed by Ruto and President Uhuru Kenyatta ahead of the 2012 presidential elections, which polled just 2%.

Though Odinga is ahead in this latest survey, the data points to a very tight contest. Ruto's 'hustler nation' slogan has cut through, giving him a lead among younger voters, and he holds a 42% to 16% lead in Central province which has the biggest block of voters in the country.

With Odinga holding wide leads in Western, Nyanza and Coastal provinces, the election is likely to be decided by which of the candidates can take a larger portion of votes in their opponents' heartlands.

That explains the headlong rush by Odinga's allies to push through a new bill in parliament making it easier to form coalition parties. Their plan seems to be to form a grand new coalition party bringing in as many as possible of the smaller regional parties and their leaders.

The new bill also proposes a new political party funding formula, based of vote support, which should make it easier to keep registered coalitions together. Disputes over cash have broken up several coalitions in the past.

And it includes new rules to stop defections. These seem aimed at Deputy President Ruto whose United Democratic Alliance benefited last year from a wave of defectors leaving Kenyatta's Jubilee party and Odinga's Orange Democratic Movement.

Although Odinga has enjoyed a bounce since formally declaring his candidacy, some questions are arising about his fitness (AC Vol 62 No 25, Raila's shallow coalition).

In a television interview in late December, Odinga positioned himself as a caretaker president who would focus on tackling corruption. He hinted that he plans to serve just one term.

That could be seen as another attempt to reassure Kikuyu voters in Central Kenya. But 76-year old Odinga's slow and laboured speech raised fresh concerns about his health. Some in his camp say he is suffering from the after effects of a severe bout of Covid-19 last March.

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