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Kenya’s Opposition Leader Regains Lead in Polls

Kenya’s leading opposition presidential candidate of the Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) has reportedly wiped away the recent gains made by incumbent President Mwai Kibaki in the latest public opinion polls released this weekend. In three different polls ahead of this month’s general elections, Raila Odinga leads the pack with about 46 percent while Kibaki follows with 41 percent. Kolonzo Musyoka of the opposition Orange Democratic Movement- Kenya (ODM-Kenya) trails at a distant third.

Paul Mbatia is a Kenyan political science professor at the University of Nairobi. From the capital, he tells reporter Peter Clottey that Odinga seems to be regaining his popularity among voters despite recent setbacks.

“Kenyans are trying to interpret the polls. In the last one Raila Odinga appears to be leading. And mainly about a week ago the interpretation was that there are sensitive issues that his party was trying to market, one of them was Majimbo. ODM was also involved in the discussion of the Memorandum of Understanding with the Moslems. Those were very sensitive and it appeared like it has backfired and it appeared to have made Raila a bit unpopular, especially among the Christians,” Mbatia noted.

He said although Odinga seemed to have stumbled on some of the sensitive topics his party was marketing, he has managed to take the fight to incumbent President Mwai Kibaki ahead of this month’s general elections.

“He (Odinga) appears to have come up well because now he seems to be gaining grounds. The position for Honorable Mwai Kibaki, he appears to have just lost a bit, just a few points, but he still looks like he is campaigning hard to try and narrow the gap between him and Raila Odinga,” he said.

Mbatia dismissed suggestions that Kenyans might not be ready for a transition by saying that historically, Kenyans have faired well before, during and after presidential transitions.

“I think Kenya is a stable nation, and this is not the first time we would undergo a transition. One would want to even look back in 1978 when President Kenyatta died; we had a very smooth transition. President Moi, who was then the vice president, took over without any unrest or chaos, and in January 2003 we saw yet another smooth transition from Moi to Kibaki. Again Kenyans were very peaceful. I don’t think if there is any change of president may be one would say from Kibaki to Raila, I think we would still be peaceful. And I think there would be Kenyans who would be patient enough to see yet another transition. And I don’t think that is anything that would raise any anxiety in this country,” Mbatia opined.

He said incumbent President Kibaki’s interest would be best served if he does not choose a running mate ahead of this month’s elections.

“I don’t think it is anything unusual in Kenya because in the past we actually have had presidents campaigning without even having to name their running mate. ODM has done it. I mean that is their style and I think that is according to the party’s constitution. President Kibaki has a coalition of political parties. I would say that it is a better tact for him to actually run without having to name his running mate. There is a lot of competition among the party leaders as to who should be the running mate. But I think it would be strategic for him to just run as a president without having to name a running mate,” he pointed out.