NAIROBI (Reuters) – Kenya holds a presidential election on Aug. 9 with opinion polls predicting a tight race between veteran opposition leader Raila Odinga and serving Deputy President William Ruto.
Incumbent President Uhuru Kenyatta, constitutionally barred from seeking a third five-year term, has publicly criticised his deputy and endorsed Odinga.
Kenyatta’s Kikuyu ethnic group, the nation’s most populous, has produced three of four presidents since independence from Britain in 1963, but does not have a presidential candidate this time. Recognising the importance of ethnic voting blocs, both frontrunners have picked a Kikuyu vice president.
Presidential candidates George Wajackoyah and David Mwaure Waihiga are polling in low single-digit numbers, but votes going their way might mean neither Odinga nor Ruto secure a majority, pushing the race to a second round.
Ruto heads the Kenya Kwanza (Kenya First) Alliance and served as a lawmaker and minister for agriculture before becoming deputy president.
In the 2007 election, Ruto sided with Odinga and lost. Around 1,200 people were killed in the violence that followed.
He was later charged with crimes against humanity at the International Criminal Court for his alleged role in the violence, but the case collapsed. He denied any wrongdoing.
In 2013 and 2017, he teamed up with Kenyatta to defeat Odinga.
An eloquent orator, 55-year-old teetotaller Ruto has pledged to boost spending for small farmers and private businesses, and reform national health insurance and social security funds.
Ruto portrays himself as a former roadside chicken seller representing working-class “hustlers” against wealthy political “dynasties”.
Odinga is running for president under the Azimio La Umoja (Declaration of Unity) Alliance, which includes Kenyatta’s Jubilee party. Odinga is the son of the nation’s first vice president, while Kenyatta is the son of the first president.
A former political prisoner, Odinga says the last three elections were stolen from him. Deadly violence followed the disputed 2007 and 2017 votes.
Odinga has pledged to stamp out widespread graft and give a monthly stipend to the unemployed, universal healthcare and free education to all. He named his eldest son Fidel in a nod to his left-wing sympathies.
His political heartland is in western Kenya, whose residents have in the past complained of neglect by the government due to their support for the opposition.
Wajackoyah, 63, who describes himself as a lawyer, academic and former spy, is running under the Roots Party of Kenya banner.
He pledges to legalise cultivating marijuana for industrial and medicinal use, and export hyena testicles and snake venom to help pay Kenya’s external public debt.
He also plans to suspend parts of the constitution for six months and hang anyone convicted of corruption.
He has attracted some young voters and enraged many religious leaders.
DAVID MWAURE WAIHIGA
Waihiga, also a lawyer, is running on the Agano Party of Kenya ticket.
He pledges to tackle government graft, and publish the government contracts for major infrastructure projects such as railways, ports and highways.
(Reporting by George Obulutsa; Editing by Katharine Houreld and Kenneth Maxwell)