Sunday, October 25, 2009



By Kenneth Kwama

With about three years to the 2012 General Election, opinion polls are providing us fresh data to spin a new round of the usual "who’s up, who’s down" political chatter.

Evidently, no reporter read the fine print of the Synovate opinion poll results released last week. If they did, they would have provided insights into interesting developments in the vote-rich Rift Valley Province.

Last Wednesday, I called my old friend George Waititu, Group Managing Director Synovate Research, and requested for a breakdown of how prospective presidential candidates for 2012 fared at the provincial level.

The results point to a tight race between Prime Minister Raila Odinga and Agriculture Minister William Ruto in Rift Valley.

Some 23 per cent of those polled said they would prefer the Agriculture Minister for president against 22 per cent for the PM.

This shows significant signs of progress for Ruto who only recently declared his presidential ambitions, but also points to areas of concern for Ruto and PM.

It is still a matter of conjecture whether Raila and Ruto will campaign against each other in Rift Valley, but if it happens it would be a fight rich in substance and symbolism but destructive for both.

Raila should be concerned because the poll shows a considerable shift in momentum in the province where he got more than 1.3 million votes in the 2007 presidential election. It also vindicates a commonly held view that a Ruto candidacy could damage his chances there.

For Ruto, the fact that the polls were conducted between October 5 and 13, long after he had differed sharply with the PM over the Mau Forest issue and handling of perpetrators of the post-election violence, is cause for worry.

It means that the recent threats by MPs allied to him against the PM could be ineffective because the PM is still rated high in the vote-rich province.

I could be wrong, but conventional wisdom tells me after all the negative campaigns, Raila should be tinkering at his lowest ebb in Rift Valley. If this is true, and he still had a draw with Ruto there, it is a signal for the Agriculture Minister to change tack.

But our politicians only respect opinion polls when it shows them ahead of the pack. I don’t expect Ruto to buy this idea, but the minister should be aware such polls point to a predictive future pattern. Of all the eight prospective presidential candidates for 2012 polled, only Raila got 25 per cent in at least five provinces.

He polled as follows: North-Eastern (37 per cent), Western (44 per cent), Nyanza (66 per cent), Nairobi (33 per cent) and Coast (44 per cent).

All the other candidates flopped with Finance Minister Uhuru Kenyatta and Vice-President Kalonzo Musyoka, each getting at least 25 per cent of votes in only one province.

Uhuru got 30 per cent in Central and Kalonzo 48 per cent in Eastern.

To be sure, none of this proves that efforts at national reconciliation are bearing any fruits. The high percentage of undecided voters also shows our politicians still need to do a lot more to convince people to vote for them.