Deputy President William Ruto appears keen to tone down his toxic rhetoric about an alleged plot to block him from succeeding President Uhuru Kenyatta.
While addressing several campaign rallies in western Kenya this past week, he sought to downplay any fears that his victory would be stolen or that he might not be sworn into office if he won the August 9 presidential election.
His propensity to speak from both sides of the mouth means that his latest position will largely be received with a pinch of salt.
In any case, playing victim has so far helped his cause, energising his core base in Rift Valley and winning him sympathy in places such as central Kenya.
The problem for the Deputy President’s campaign is that the ‘sympathy addiction’, as Interior Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang’i once characterised it, could be counterproductive.
If some of his supporters get to believe the pre-rigged election narrative, they might choose not to enrol as voters during the final window of mass enrolment that opens this month or stay away from the polling booths on August 9.
That alone would significantly reduce Dr Ruto’s chances of victory in an election where he will not only be competing against a tough opponent in the person of Raila Odinga, but also against potential voter apathy.
Unlike Mr Odinga, who has built a solid base in different parts of the country from his past four presidential campaigns, the Deputy President’s fate hangs on a huge turnout in Mt Kenya and other areas where their ticket with President Kenyatta carried overwhelmingly in the 2017 election.
Yet without a credible candidate in the race from Mt Kenya this year and the tribal resentment against Mr Odinga receding, there is a sense that voters in the region might not come out with the same zeal witnessed in the past four elections when its native sons were top contenders for the presidency.
Talk of impending falling-out in his UDA party over handpicking of candidates for the various seats bodes ill for its bid to ward off the challenge of smaller parties and independents challenging its popularity there.
It hasn’t made Dr Ruto’s work easy that Mr Odinga is rolling up his sleeves for a fight that could flip the region from the Deputy President’s perceived stronghold into a battleground.
Last week’s appointment of Laikipia County Governor Ndiritu Muriithi to chair the Raila Odinga campaign suggests the former Prime Minister is more serious about picking up a significant share of Mt Kenya votes than was previously thought.
If and when President Uhuru Kenyatta, the region’s political kingpin in the last two elections, hits the campaign trail together with Mr Odinga, he could make life much harder for Dr Ruto.
The rival campaign might not need that much help from Mr Kenyatta if the DP goes around suppressing his own vote and shooting himself in the foot.
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