OTIENO: Why Raila sight made Uhuru and Ruto see demons in Nyeri


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What a difference a day makes in politics! On Wednesday, May 31, President Uhuru Kenyatta was over the moon presiding, amid fanfare, at the launch of the Chinese-constructed standard gauge railway.

Having taken the inaugural train trip from Mombasa to Nairobi, the President presumably retired to bed a very happy man later that evening and looked forward to further revelling in the greatest achievement of his presidency at the June 1 Madaraka Day celebrations.

It was never to be. Opposition leader Raila Odinga arrived, and some people suddenly started seeing demons.

Perhaps Mr Odinga should count himself lucky he was spared the indignity of the routine Joho treatment – being physically blocked from reaching the venue by a police wall.

But the former prime minister needed not be told that his presence in Nyeri was unwelcome.

No pleasantries. No acknowledgement of his presence. No invitation to wave at wananchi, leave alone “say something”.

Even more interesting to observe on national television was the way everyone looked tense on that dais.

For once, Deputy President William Ruto tamed his love for the microphone and he seemed to rush his speech.

His boss went on and on, but his face rarely radiated the good cheer normally associated with this occasion.

The overwhelming consensus in mainstream media and social media commentary is that the President should have shown statesmanship and at least acknowledged the presence of his main rival in the August 8 elections.

Rather than humiliate Mr Odinga, the public snub instead earned him political mileage, winning him some sympathy among the undecided voters and pushing the SGR story from the headlines.

The most crucial victory for the Nasa presidential candidate in Nyeri, however, was successfully managing to expose the level of panic that is setting in the rival camp with two months to the elections.

For some time now, the Jubilee campaign has sought to popularise the narrative that they are on course to a landslide victory, with a 70 pc+1 vote being the minimum target for their presidential candidate.

The long faces in Nyeri betrayed little conviction in the 70 pc+1 narrative.

No candidate has his stomach churned at the sight of his opponent at a public meeting while cruising to victory with such a huge margin.

Of course the President’s campaign has cause to worry.

Recent opinion polls show Mr Odinga has made significant gains in popularity since the major opposition parties rallied behind his candidature.

The latest Ipsos poll put him behind the President by only five percentage points.

The fact that the Nasa leader’s challenge is looking stronger in a period the government has stepped up a campaign to make the public aware of its development projects suggests there are too few converts outside the core base.

What looked like a stroll in the park for the President a month ago is suddenly very tight.

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