Jubilee cannot afford to underestimate Raila

One of America’s longest serving politicians William Lewis Jenkins once said; “Often dismissed or underestimated by political opponents, President Reagan had the most valuable weapon in the political arsenal: a bond with the people.”

Politicians who create a strong bond with their supporters always come on top leaving their opponents wondering what hit them. This was what happened in 2013 when President Uhuru Kenyatta won the presidency against the then Prime Minister Raila Odinga.

Eight months before the elections, opinion polls placed Raila at more than 40 percent while president Uhuru and his deputy were rated at nine percent. Four months after this and after the two had visited many parts of the country, it became clear that they were no longer the underdogs.

Their bond, that was evident from their rallies, was transferred and shared with their supporters and those who were still undecided shifted their loyalty.

Today, it is clear that Uhuru remains the most popular of the likely presidential candidates, going by public sentiments and even opinion polls. There is a growing belief that the 2017 presidential race is for him to lose and his second term appears guaranteed under all circumstances.

It is certainly true that President Uhuru Kenyatta is in pole position and is gaining ground even in the Opposition zones. A lot of good things have happened in Kenya that even some opposition supporters may just vote for him next year.

But as this goes on, Jubilee cannot sit back and take Opposition leader Raila Odinga for granted. To start with, he got almost half of the votes in the last election and even though Uhuru has eaten into this support, he will still have a substantial number of Kenyans supporting his bid.

History shows us that Raila is a master of political re-invention and is even more lethal when he knows he is losing ground. In 2002, he shocked both friends and foes when he proclaimed “Kibaki Tosha” after having left Kanu just months after the historic merger.

Other opposition leaders were shocked at this move despite moving with the euphoric mood that followed the declaration at Uhuru Park. He was at it again in 2005, when he led the ‘No’ campaign against the draft constitution before metamorphosing this into the Orange Democratic Movement.

ODM gave Kibaki a run for his money and eventually forced the creation of the position of Prime Minister for Raila after the 2007 elections. Riding on this, Raila supported the new constitution in 2010 hoping that this was his ticket to the Presidency only to be outsmarted by Uhuru and Ruto in the 2013 elections.

As we speak, Raila, despite having lost some of his allies to Jubilee, is working day and night to put his house in order. He is seeking to unite the opposition under an umbrella similar to the 2002 Narc which removed Kanu from power.

It is also worth noting that the former Prime Minister has gone ahead and rejuvenated his campaign team which is now being led by Mombasa Governor Hassan Joho. This may be a key game changer in the presidential race next year.

In the last election, Raila as the Prime Minister was very much an incumbent – just like President Uhuru is now. Raila, riding on the achievements of the grand coalition government, totally underestimated Uhuru and paid a price for it.

The assumption that Uhuru will easily retain his seat is dangerous for Jubilee as it can create voter apathy among his supporters. We may see low voter turnouts in Jubilee strongholds and this is why the UhuRuto team urgently needs to kick off a strong “Get out the vote” campaign.

It is for these reasons that Jubilee has to be weary of assuming that the ODM leader is down and beaten. Raila is just down but not out and has enough time, more than 10 months, to re-invent himself and give Jubilee nightmares when campaigns kick off.

(The writer is a political and communications consultant. Twitter @MachelWaikenda)

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