The big headache of picking presidential running mate

Wednesday, January 13th, 2021 00:00 |
President Uhuru Kenyatta (second right), his deputy William Ruto (right) and (from left) Moses Wetang’ula, Musalia Mudavadi, Kalonzo Musyoka and Raila Odinga at a past event. Photo/PD/File

Rawlings Otieno

Key presidential contenders face a major headache in the selection of their running mates for the 2022 elections with the elephant in the room being how to please the big communities and retain the small ones.

Two developments make the arithmetic more difficult. The first one being the current political talk around other communities benefiting from the presidency, and the second being the current dispensation only has room for the President and his deputy as the main actors. This is making presidential aspirants scratch their heads on the best formula to State House.

President Uhuru Kenyatta’s exit from State House in 2022 has rendered his vote-rich Mt Kenya backyard a major focus point for running mate with leaders from the region angling themselves for the number two slot. 

But how this will augur with those pushing the ‘other community narrative’ is yet to be seen.

Deputy President William Ruto and former Prime Minister Raila Odinga have been aggressively courting the populous central region knowing their guaranteed vote will tilt the scale. 

The other key presidential candidates are former Vice-Presidents Kalonzo Musyoka and Musalia Mudavadi - both of whom have been categorical that they will not play second fiddle to anyone in the next election. 

Governors Alfred Mutua (Machakos), Mwangi wa Iria (Murang’a), Kivutha Kibwana (Makueni) and UNCTAD’s Secretary-General Mukhisa Kituyi have also declared interest in the State House contest.

In the last two elections, Raila had picked Kalonzo as his running mate. Mudavadi has twice been picked as running mate; first to Uhuru Kenyatta in 2002 and Raila in 2007.

Prof Peter Kagwanja, a political scientist, said the major test will be appeasing Mt Kenya, especially for Ruto and Raila.

He argues that the only salvation will be the new positions such a Prime Minister  proposed in the Building Bridges Initiative.

Limited choices

“If Ruto chose a DP from any other area other than Mt Kenya, he risks losing the region.

Most likely all will choose a running mate from Mt Kenya, but if the position of Prime Minister is created then the DP will most likely come from Western and PM from Central,” says Kagwanja.

According to Kagwanja, Ruto is almost condemned to pick a running mate from Mt Kenya region, mainly the Kikuyu-dominated counties.

“He is opposed to reforms, and therefore has limited choices. Owing to Raila’s ‘Handshake’ with Uhuru, he will have no option but to choose his deputy from Mt Kenya region.

But if the post of a PM is introduced in the reformed constitution, the seat will go to Mt Kenya,” he opines.

On whether the top presidential candidates will be keen in picking a female running mate, Kagwanja argues that would depend on whether the pick will help galvanise votes.

“There is vogue around picking up a female running mate, but ultimately it is what will deliver a vote. 

A weak female candidate will be no more than a flower girl. Gender will be accorded only lip service unless it is a constitutional requirement,” he says.

Prof Egara Kabaji argues that the choice of a running-mate will not only be complicated by Uhuru’s declaration that leadership should not oscillate between two communities, but also the fact that no politician in Mt Kenya other than the Head of State, can pull his or her own weight.

“In picking a running-mate, Ruto has limited options than Raila. As per now nobody has the clout to be Ruto’s running mate from Mt Kenya.

If there is, the person must be made to have the clout and not by anybody else but by President Uhuru because he is still the ‘Muthamaki’,” said Kabaji.

“Candidates from Mt Kenya who can be considered for running mate are all lightweight until they are given weight. The person to give them weight is Uhuru,” noted Kabaji.

According to Kabaji, the DP could have gotten a credible candidate in Western region but at the moment, none is interested as all are leaning towards President Uhuru and Raila.

On his part, USIU historian Munene Macharia argues that picking a running mate will not be a walk in the park.

“The person has to be compatible, add value, and be ready to suppress ambition. Moi’s advice to Kibaki in 1984 still applies; thinking is a presidential prerogative.

Raila will face a big challenge because he needs to convince more ‘prima donnas’ than Ruto,” says Macharia.

Mark Bichachi, a political commentator avers that the question of the quality of candidate being picked as running mate was key, adding that there are very few politicians available with considerable clout.

“Raila will find it easier to form alliances than Ruto would. This is simply because many of them have already aligned themselves with the BBI and the ‘Handshake’.

If the BBI registers success then Raila will have more allies. If the BBI loses then many will troop to Ruto’s side,” Bichachi argues.

He holds that as things stand today, Raila has more allies at the top than Ruto with the former enjoying numerical strength of many foot soldiers that remain loyal to the Orange Democratic Movement.

“Whereas Ruto has many foot soldiers that seem drawn to prosperity more than to the person of Ruto, his woes will deepen with the fact that he is in a war of attrition in Jubilee.”

In addition, all the presidential contenders will further weigh on those who can hold the administration to deliver and who can campaign on their own to hunt for votes.

Political analysts argue that in settling for a running mate, contenders would have to pick persons who would broaden their chances by considering gender, origin, extent of political influence, profile and ambition.

Pundits also caution that if President Uhuru does not endorse Ruto, choosing a running mate from Mt Kenya would be a useless endeavour, adding that it would be comparable to the 2013 Mudavadi bid with Ndaragua MP Jeremiah Kioni as a running mate, whose effect was dismal.

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