Kenya’s presidential election leaders were set to make their final push for the vote on Saturday, ending months of frantic campaigning ahead of the August 9 election.

Deputy President William Ruto and Raila Odinga, a veteran opposition leader now backed by the ruling party, are vying to lead the East African nation struggling with a cost-of-living crisis.

The previous election was marred by violence and continues to cast a dark shadow over the country, where 22.1 million voters will now elect the next president, as well as senators, governors, lawmakers, women’s representatives and about 1,500 district officials.

The fight for votes was dominated by mudslinging, mutual claims of fraud and freebies for supporters who were showered with umbrellas, food and money for attending rallies.

After touring the vast country in recent months, the leading candidates will hold their final campaign in the capital, Nairobi, amid heightened security. Ruta will address the 30,000-capacity Nyayo National Stadium, while Odinga will address a rally at the 60,000-capacity Kasarani Stadium. .

The two candidates initially announced plans to speak at the Nyayo venue on Saturday afternoon, fueling fears of a showdown on the day before the election.

Lawyers David Mware and George Wajakoya – an eccentric ex-spy who wants to legalize marijuana – are also in the fray.

The tight race has fueled speculation that Kenya could face its first presidential runoff, with many worried that contesting the results could lead to street violence.

A close race

Ruta, 55, a wealthy businessman with a ragtag reputation, was long tipped to succeed President Uhuru Kenyatta but lost ground when his boss, who cannot run for re-election, joined long-time rival Odinga in 2018. .

Kenyatta’s endorsement gave Odinga, 77, access to the ruling Jubilee party’s powerful electoral machinery, but also dealt a blow to the former political prisoner’s anti-establishment reputation.

However, some analysts predict that Odinga will emerge victorious in the close race, with Oxford Economics highlighting the fact that he has the support of “several influential political leaders”, including Kenyatta.

Ruta described himself as the “con artist-in-chief” after targeting the “dynasties” that rule Kenya – a reference to the Kenyatta and Odinga families that gave the country its first president and vice president.

He promised to create a bottom-up economy in a country where three out of 10 people live on less than $1.90 a day, according to the World Bank.

Meanwhile, Odinga has made the fight against corruption a key part of his campaign, noting that Ruto’s running mate is facing a bribery case.

Evans Odawa, a 23-year-old tailor who attended Odinga’s rally, told AFP: “We expect from the next president that the economy will improve and also the standard of living … we need jobs.”

A new chapter

The election will open a new chapter in Kenya’s history, as none of the candidates belong to the dominant Kikuyu tribe, which has produced three of the country’s four presidents.

Both have tried to appeal to the Kikuyu, who have about six million votes, but analysts say the economic crisis is likely to compete with tribalism as a key determinant of voter behavior.

With large ethnic voting blocs, Kenya has long suffered from politically motivated communal violence during elections, particularly after a disputed poll in 2007 that left more than 1,100 dead, scaring the nation’s psyche.

The run-up to this year’s election has been largely peaceful, with police planning to deploy 150,000 officers on election day to provide security and the international community calling for a peaceful vote.

Since 2002, every presidential election in Kenya has been marred by controversy over the results. The Supreme Court annulled the 2017 elections due to massive irregularities in the vote counting process and mismanagement by the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission.

The IEBC, which is under pressure to ensure a free and fair poll, insists it has taken all necessary precautions to prevent fraud.

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