It was billed as a tight contest, almost too close to call, according to pollsters. Some even predicted that the vote would end up in a run-off.
But when the results were declared yesterday, President Uhuru Kenyatta and his deputy William Ruto emerged victorious with a comfortable lead over NASA flagbearer Raila Odinga.
Uhuru and Ruto pulled a staggering upset on Raila using a clever combination of tactics and numbers. One of the surprises of the election was the manner in which President Kenyatta’s Jubilee Party successfully pulled off surprising victories in territories billed as Opposition strongholds.
NASA’s real chance at taking over government relied on their ability to consolidate their base of Western Kenya, Coast, South Nyanza and Lower Eastern and also the swing-vote counties of Kajiado, Narok and Samburu. But the same strategy was employed by Jubilee with relative success, topping up votes from its strongholds with those from Kisii, Nyamira and Bungoma. Uhuru garnered 243,993 from Bungoma, Busia, Vihiga and Kakamega, up from 66,185 in 2013.
It was a clever strategy, one that was targeted at improving Uhuru’s 2013 performance — concentrate on Opposition strongholds and convince them that UhuRuto were the better option.
Uhuru’s inroads into pro-opposition zones partly relied on members of his government from such regions. And it worked, to the surprise of many, including its own leadership. Water Minister Eugene Wamalwa delivered to Jubilee 12 legislators from the wider Western Kenya region. The result is that Jubilee now has more MPs from Western Kenya than Raila’s ODM.
In Gusii, Jubilee relied on acting Interior Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang’i, city lawyer Ken Ogeto (who also represented President Kenyatta at the International Criminal Court) and outgoing Kisii senator Chris Obure. From Kisii and Nyamira, Jubilee now has five parliamentary seats. The presidential vote rose to 269,992 up from 149,667 in 2013.
But it is Jubilee’s move to field candidates in almost all the elective positions, more so in areas thought to be no-go zones for the ruling party, that helped it clinch more seats.
From the outset, this election was always going to be won by whichever candidate marshalled the majority of his supporters to come out and vote. To achieve that, both Uhuru and Ruto played special attention to their strongholds and made overtures in opposition areas.
The clamour for voter turnout roped in the local administration, local businessmen and vernacular radio stations.
Then came the gruelling campaign period. The President and his deputy devised a brilliant plan where they would be together in an area and separately in another, all in a day, paying keen attention to the swing vote counties and opposition strongholds where they thought Jubilee could beat NASA.
In the last days of the campaign, Uhuru and Ruto made whirlwind tours, sometimes touring several counties as far apart as Isiolo and Busia.
The message of their campaigns was carefully tailored to match the audience and was often advised by comments of the Opposition to advance the Jubilee agenda.
For instance, when he missed the televised presidential debate, Uhuru retreated to his backyard of Mt Kenya where he made a villain out of the media and played down the merits of the debate.
When Raila made comments touching on the emotive land issues in Kajiado, Uhuru made that the key message of his campaign. He told voters that the Opposition did not have any plans of uniting the country.
In its campaign secretariat, Jubilee had employed the best minds to assist in strategy and party image. In media adverts, Jubilee sold the image of Uhuru as an approachable, down-to-earth and easy-going individual.
While ODM made a blanket condemnation of independent candidates following the problematic party nominations, Jubilee employed a softer approach.
Uhuru asked voters to “give him leaders he could work with”, neither embracing or dismissing them.
He now heads back to State House for five more years, with a majority in both houses of Parliament and the Council of Governors (COG).