In a field of eight candidates, and with the two frontrunners — Uhuru Kenyatta and Raila Odinga — currently in a dead heat by most objective measures in the race to become Kenya’s fourth post-independence president, it seems more unlikely than ever that a candidate will win the 50%-plus majority necessary to win the presidency outright on March 4.
That means that the man likely to place third in Monday’s presidential election, Musalia Mudavadi (pictured above), could well emerge as the kingmaker in a runoff.
Mudavadi, though he’s only making his first run for president, is certainly no stranger to the elite of Kenyan politics, and he is one of the half-dozen or so top politicians that have emerged following the quarter-center rule of former president Daniel arap Moi. Mudavadi has allied in the past with both Kenyatta and Odinga, however, which makes it unclear who he would back in the event of a runoff. Furthermore, his ethnic group (Luhya), a Bantu group that comprises around 14% of Kenya’s population, mostly concentrated in Western Province north of Lake Victoria in Kenya’s southwest, is somewhat of a ‘swing’ group as well.
Mudavadi served as finance minister in the mid-1990s under arap Moi and as Kenya’s vice president for less than two months in the final days of the arap Moi administration, and his father, Moses Mudavadi, was until his death in 1989 a key minister in the arap Moi administration. He has arap Moi’s support in the 2013 presidential election, and he is sometimes viewed pejoratively as arap Moi’s ‘project’ — in other words, a bit of a dupe that arap Moi is using to regain power behind the scenes.
Mudavadi, under arap Moi’s guidance, was Kenyatta’s running mate in the 2002 election — Kenyatta lost that election to the current outgoing president Mwai Kibaki.
All three presidential hopefuls — Mudavadi, Odinga and Kenyatta — found themselves allied during the 2005 Kenyan constitutional referendum under the banner of the Orange Democratic Movement (ODM), which successfully opposed the new constitution.
In 2007, Mudavadi served as Odinga’s running mate in the notorious election that saw Kibaki’s controversial (and fraudulent) reelection and subsequent ethnic clashes, and when Odinga became prime minister in the 2008 power-sharing deal with Kibaki, Mudavadi became a deputy prime minister.
By 2012, however, Mudavadi parted ways with Odinga — nothing personal, just business.
When it became clear that Odinga would once again run for president under the banner of the Coalition for Reforms and Democracy (CORD) alliance that contains what’s left of much of the Orange movement, he formed a new vehicle, the United Democratic Forum Party (UDM), and turned to Kenyatta, who had formed the alternative Jubilee coalition with William Ruto and other Kenyan politicians. Given the indictments of each of Kenyatta and Ruto by the International Criminal Court, it wasn’t certain until last month that they would be able to run in Monday’s presidential election.
When it also became clear that Kenyatta, and not Mudavadi, would become the Jubilee presidential nominee, and that Ruto would be Kenyatta’s running mate, he left the Jubilee coalition as well.
Mudavadi and his UDM joined forces with the once-dominant, but now atrophied, Kenya African National Union (KANU), which is now led by arap Moi’s son, Gideon Moi, and a smaller party led by another Luhya politician, Eugene Wamalwa, hastily assembling the Amani coalition, which promptly nominated Mudavadi for president.
Though his support, according to polls, is only around 4% to 6%, he is widely seen as laying the groundwork for future presidential races by consolidating his support as the top Luhya politician in Kenya, and his supporters could be enough to deny either Kenyatta or Odinga the requisite 50% support to avoid a runoff.
Under Kenya’s new 2010 constitution, which instituted the 50% requirement, the winning candidate must also win at least 25% of the vote in at least 24 of Kenya’s 47 counties. So there’s a very good chance that Mudavadi can deliver a second-round victory to either Kenyatta or Odinga.
On one hand, Kenyatta was until April 2012 the KANU chairman, and arap Moi and the KANU leadership may relish the opportunity to deliver second-round victory to Kenyatta by leaning on Mudavadi to support Kenyatta, bringing KANU immediately back into power. Mudavadi, if pressed by arap Moi, might find it difficult to turn his back on his mentor, and if Kenyatta’s Jubilee alliance wins Kenya’s parliamentary elections, a deal with Kenyatta could make Mudavadi prime minister.
On the other hand, many Luhya voters are already supporting Odinga in the first round, and given that the Luhya largely supported Odinga in 2007, a Mudavadi-Odinga alliance may be a more natural fit in a runoff. Likewise, if Odinga’s CORD alliance wins the parliamentary election, Mudavadi too might find consolation as prime minister in exchange for delivering his supporters to Odinga.
Mudavadi himself is known as somewhat of a soft-spoken ‘gentlemanly’ politician, perhaps owing in part to his Quaker upbringing. His supporters and detractors alike view him as ‘harmless’ and ‘safe pair of hands’ — reliably boring and stable, but also perhaps not strong enough to force the kind of radical change that will be required from Kenya’s next president, through land reform, economic reform and devolution.