Kenya’s ruling party backs opposition leader Odinga for presidency

NAIROBI, Feb 26 (Reuters) – Kenya’s ruling Jubilee party endorsed veteran opposition leader Raila Odinga in a presidential election scheduled for August, in a pointed rejection of Deputy President William Ruto, who has also announced his candidacy.

Former political prisoner Odinga, 77, ran his previous four races as an anti-establishment candidate keen to shake up governance if elected, but now he has teamed up with President Uhuru Kenyatta. read more

Kenyatta, who will not be on the ballot due to a constitutional limit of two five-year terms, opted to back Odinga against his deputy Ruto, whom Kenyatta says is unfit to be president of Kenya, East Africa’s biggest economy.

“Very early in my second term I did make it clear to the Kenyan people that mine was a choice of leadership over politics,” Kenyatta said at a meeting of the party’s national delegates council on Saturday.

In Odinga’s last three campaigns for office in 2007, 2013, and 2017, he challenged the outcomes, saying his victories were stolen. Deadly clashes followed the 2007 and 2017 votes.

But he made peace with Kenyatta in early 2018, effectively sidelining Ruto, who is standing with a new party called United Democratic Alliance, after quitting Jubilee.

Odinga is touting his long experience in national leadership, including a stint as prime minister.

He has also promised to stamp out widespread graft, give a monthly stipend of 6,000 shillings ($52.75) to the unemployed, and unite Kenya’s ethnic groups.

Odinga, Kenyatta and Ruto come from three of the four biggest ethnic groups. Both candidates are fighting to secure the support of Kenyatta’s Kikuyu group, the nation’s most populous, which has produced three of the nation’s four presidents since independence from Britain in 1963.

Ruto has wooed Kikuyu voters by pledging to shift the government’s economic focus from large infrastructure projects, and big state-owned firms, to small enterprises owned by what he calls “hustlers.”

He has sought to portray himself as an advocate for the poor and dismissing Kenyatta, the son of Kenya’s first president, and Odinga, the son of its first vice president, as dynastic elites who are out of touch.

The delegates, all donning the party’s signature red, also formally removed Ruto as Jubilee’s deputy party leader at Saturday’s convention.

($1 = 113.7500 Kenyan shillings)