Nairobi, Kenya – Kenyans are voting on Tuesday to pick a successor to outgoing President Uhuru Kenyatta in what is seen as a key test of stability for one of Africa’s healthiest democracies.
Voting begins at 6am local (03:00 GMT) and runs through until 6pm (15:00 GMT).
The stakes are high in the seventh consecutive election in the country since its return to multi-party democracy in 1992 under Daniel Arap Moi.
Four candidates are on the ballot but only two are best poised to succeed Kenyatta. One is Deputy President William Ruto, 55, who is regarded as Moi’s pupil and first came to national consciousness in the 1992 election as a youth campaigner for the ruling party.
He is up against 77-year-old former Prime Minister Raila Odinga, one of the civil society leaders involved in the struggle against – and imprisoned by – Moi in the 1980s.
An opinion poll put the sexagenarian ahead by six percentage points, but his opponent has brushed them aside as “fake” and “propaganda”.
Tuesday’s vote is seen as a key test of stability in a nation regarded as a healthy democracy in a region known for long-serving dictators. Kenya is also the economic hub of East Africa and its neighbours will be keenly watching the vote.
Citizens will also vote for governors, legislators and other representatives.
Plans and alliances
The election is also a referendum on the president and his economic legacy.
Unemployment is rife in Kenya as more than a third of its youth are without jobs and the situation has been worsened by the COVID-19 pandemic and supply disruptions due to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
“Commodity prices are currently volatile and trending upwards,” Magdalene Kariuki, head of public policy at the Nairobi office of Africa Practice, told Al Jazeera. “Food inflation has increased to about 18.8 percent in June, up from 12.4 percent in May, but efforts are being taken by government to ensure stabilisation and cushion Kenyans.”
Ruto, who has called himself a ‘hustler-in-chief’ and talks about growing up poor, has promised to inject 200 billion Kenyan shillings ($1.68bn) into the economy to create job opportunities.
He has framed his campaign around wresting power away from dynasties, referring to Kenyatta and Odinga, whose political careers were preceded by those of their fathers who led the country as its first president and vice president respectively.
Meanwhile, the Odinga campaign has promised to begin paying 6,000 Kenyan shillings ($50) to poor and vulnerable households across the country in its first 100 days in office, as well as a healthcare plan called BabaCare.
The veteran opposition figure has campaigned under the “Freedom is here” slogan, despite reconciling with longtime foe Kenyatta.
Their truce in 2018, known in Kenya as “the handshake“, ended hostilities between the duo.
But the beginning of a new friendship between old foes also marked the beginning of a new animosity between old friends. Ruto, previously the establishment candidate and Kenyatta’s anointed successor, effectively swapped positions with opposition figure Odinga.
Four years on, the new alliances have crystallised in new coalitions.
The Azimio la Umoja, which has enveloped the ruling Jubilee party, is seeking to consolidate its hold on power by helping Odinga win the presidency on his fifth attempt.
But there is also the Kenya Kwanza movement which has Ruto as its flag bearer and comprises a number of establishment politicians disgruntled with the Kenyatta presidency, including within his own kin, and other opposition elements.
There is pressure on the Independent Boundaries and Electoral Commission (IEBC) to conduct smooth elections, especially after the Supreme Court ordered a rerun of the presidential polls.
On Monday, IEBC Chairperson Wafula Chebukati announced the suspension of governorship elections in the Mombasa and Kakamega counties due to a ballot mix-up. Seven officials were also dismissed earlier in the week for various offences, including meeting a local politician in western Kenya.
That could affect voter turnout in other counties, given concerns about voter apathy.
Only a third of the registered 22 million voters are aged 18-35, even though two-thirds of Kenya’s 56 million people are below 35.