Monday, 25 February 2013

What to expect in the final presidential debate

By MACHARIA GAITHO  ( email the author)

Nation’s Managing Editor for Special Projects Macharia Gaitho gives his own take on what to expect from the second and final episode of the Presidential Debate 2013. The participants are listed alphabetically by surname
The surprise late entrant into the presidential race was one of the undoubted stars of the first debate. However, he provided a comic relief rather than dealing with solid policy proposals or grasp of issues.Mr Dida tended to wander-off into irreverent monologues before delivering pithy one-liners on his philosophy and beliefs that had the audience in stitches.During the dreary second half of the debate moderated by Julie Gichuru, it was probably Mr Dida’s performance that kept everyone awake.While he will not make a dent in the presidential race, he has made some significant inroads in the North Eastern Kenya vote.
The feisty Narc Kenya candidate performed strongly in the first debate; impressing with the grasp of issues and the forthright manner in which she expounded on the core tenets of her campaign.She came out strong on reform, empathy for the common man, and an approach that stresses the issues that should unite Kenyans rather than divide them into ethnic blocs.The key contenders leading large ethnic blocs are Cord's presidential candidate Raila Odinga and Jubilee's Uhuru Kenyatta, but the plaudits she earns for standing above ethnic politics has not translated into any notable surge in her popularity.If a key issue at the debate on Monday evening is land, Ms Karua should again come out strongly, and might also use the opportunity to hit back at Mr Kenyatta who delivered some slurs in her direction as he announced withdrawal from the debate.
The Eagle Alliance flagbearer is another marginal candidate who performed well in the first debate, but to no significant surge in popularity.He came out strong on host of issues, impressing with his grasp of facts and figures when it came to specific policy proposals on areas as diverse of the economy, health and security.But he also sometimes appeared to be too smug, too rehearsed, trying too hard to impress.He can be expected to put in another good performance, particularly with his sure grasp of economic and development issues, but that might hardly register a blip on his poll ratings a week to the elections.
A famous moment in the US election campaigns was when veteran tough guy movie star Clint Eastwood ‘addressing’ President Obama on an empty chair during the Republican convention.If Mr Uhuru Kenyatta makes good on his resolve to stay away from the second Kenya presidential debate, the other contenders might have a field day hurling brickbats at his empty lectern.One of the key issues lined up for debate is land, and that is Mr Kenyatta’s weak point because he is forever on the defensive about the former first family’s massive land holdings and how they were acquired.The issue has been hammered relentlessly by Mr Raila Odinga’s campaign, and surely will be gleefully seized on if there is no room to respond.Absence might also indicate that Mr Kenyatta is simply running away from an issue that he finds too hot to handle.A little-noted fact from the campaign policy documents is that on the sensitive land issue.Mr Kenyatta come out far stringer than Mr Odinga repossession of grabbed land without compensation and punishment for land grabbers.
The academic-turned State Bureaucrat-turned politician is yet another fringe candidate who performed impressively at the first debate.He came out particularly strong on his areas of expertise, education and environment; and also debated with ease on health and security.However, Prof James ole Kiyiapi did little to suggest that he can make the transition from scholar and administrator to skippering the ship of state.The Restore and Build Kenya presidential candidate has on the final campaign forays been expressing a growing frustration that his bid is not getting traction.He has been blaming the media, opinion pollsters and even rival candidates, and it will be interesting to see whether he brings his grouses to the debate.
For a candidate touting his experience in leadership and the middle-of-the-road stance that should make him safe pair of hands and a unifying factor, the Amani coalition candidate came across rather flat in the first debate.Mr Musalia Mudavadi would have been expected to put on a flawless performance on economic, development and governance issues.Instead he seems to have drifted-off very early. When it became a rather fluid debate in the second half when the participants were competing to catch moderator Julie Gichuru’s eye, Mr Mudavadi became very much the forgotten man.He hardly raised his hand or came up with any interjections, being overshadowed by all the candidates he outranks in the opinion polls. If he wants to remain the Third Force, he will definitely have to up his game.
The former Kikuyu MP and fabled crusader in the campaign for democratisation almost threw a spanner into the works ahead of the first debate.Mr Paul Muite and Mr Abduba Dida were late entrants in the presidential race and thus had not been included for the debate until the former went to court.Once in the debate Mr Muite did not disappoint, putting in a powerful and assured performance.The surprise was when he almost came out as an advocate for Mr Kenyatta on the ICC and eligibility issues.If Mr Kenyatta will be absent on Monday evening, it might provide another opportunity for Mr Muite to try and catch the eye of central Kenya voters.
If his chief rival Uhuru Kenyatta stays away, Mr Raila Odinga will be the man in the spotlight during the debate.That will not necessarily be a good thing because the focus will shift to the negative issues that blight his candidacy.Land is an issue that Mr Odinga has relentlessly hit Mr Kenyatta on, but it might be his turn to explain the controversial acquisition of the Kisumu Molasses factory.Mr Odinga might also find that while the land issue excite his base and has Mr Kenyatta cowering, it cuts both ways.Thus it was not surprising that on a campaign jaunt in the Rift Valley just days to the debate, he was forced to clarify that he was not for land and property seizures.In the constituencies that Mr Odinga needs to woo, his campaign on land is interpreted as indicative of a radical socialist out to grab land and property.If the other contenders want to make a mark in the debate, it might be by putting Mr Odinga on the defensive. He will have to be at his nimblest to a parry the blows that will come his way.

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