Kenya Presidency Race Narrows, Run-Off Likely, Pollsters Say

NAIROBI (Capital Markets in Africa) – The race for Kenya’s presidency between incumbent Uhuru Kenyatta and opposition leader Raila Odinga has tightened less than three weeks before election day, with polls showing both candidates lack the support to avoid a second-round vote.

Odinga, a former prime minister, is backed by 47 percent of voters, while Kenyatta is at 46 percent, according to a poll by Infotrak released in the capital, Nairobi, on Sunday. A separate survey by Ipsos showed Kenyatta at 47 percent and Odinga with 43 percent, up one point from a May survey. A candidate needs 50 percent plus one vote and support from 25 of Kenya’s 47 counties to be declared the winner.

“The outcome will depend on voters’ turnout, which side gets more people out on voting day,” Ipsos researcher Tom Wolf said at a media briefing. “If the opposition can do that, they can flip this and they can win.”

Kenyatta, 55, is seeking a second term against 72-year-old Odinga. Kenyan elections heighten investor concerns because of unrest that’s occurred during three of the past five national votes. Odinga, who has failed in three previous presidential bids, has warned he won’t concede defeat if the vote isn’t credible and fair.

Kenya is in the throes of a drought that’s spanned three harvests and cut farm output, leading to shortages of foods including the staple corn, sugar and milk. That’s driven the inflation rate to the highest level in five years, squeezing families in an economy where almost half of the population survives on less than $2 a day.

About 40 percent of those polled expressed confidence in Kenyatta, while 39 percent said they were confident in Odinga, according to Ipsos. About 61 percent said Kenya is headed in the wrong direction and 44 percent support the ruling Jubilee party over the opposition National Super Alliance, which got 42 percent support, Ipsos said.

Kenyatta’s chances of winning in the first round has declined to 49 percent from 62 percent in May, according to Emma Gordon, senior analyst at Bath, England-based Verisk Maplecroft.

The race is “too close to call accurately” and avoiding a second ballot has become more difficult, Gordon said. The government’s “mishandling” of corn shortages may boost the opposition by swinging undecided voters away from Kenyatta, Gordon said.

Aggrieved Voters
About two-thirds of Kenyans said they are worse-off economically, citing the high cost-of-living, hunger and joblessness as the most serious problems they grapple with daily, Ipsos said in a survey released July 19. Among the most aggrieved are voters in western Nyanza region, an opposition stronghold, while residents of eastern counties complain mainly of hunger, Ipsos said.

“Kenyatta’s chances of securing a first-round victory have dramatically fallen over the last months due to a series of scandals and missteps during the campaign,” Gordon said in emailed responses. “It does show that Kenyatta has not had a successful campaign.”

The Infotrak poll shows support for the key parties, the ruling Jubilee Party and main opposition National Super Alliance, tied at 45 percent, while 49 percent of those surveyed said the nation is headed in the wrong direction compared with 47 percent who said Kenya is on the right track.


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