Should Kenyan leaders Uhuru Muigai Kenyatta and William Samoei Ruto pursue their presidential ambitions despite facing a possible trial at the International Criminal Court (ICC)? The Kenyan public is almost split in half on the issue, according to a new poll.
Furthermore, almost half of those polled believe that nothing will happen if either individual is barred from contesting the presidential poll, expected by March 2013 at the latest.
This is significant because supporters of Deputy Prime Minister Kenyatta and former Cabinet Minister Ruto are passionate, sometimes bordering on the fanatical, which has raised fears of negative reactions during the ICC process. Also, political leaders supporting the two men have sought to emphasize reconciliation over retribution whenever questions are raised about how to deal with the violence that engulfed Kenya for two months after the December 2007 poll. The political leaders generally take the line that there is no need to reopen old wounds, suggesting some violence may occur if retribution is followed instead of reconciliation.
The Ipsos Synovate poll on the presidential ambitions of Kenyatta and Ruto was released on Monday but was conducted at the same time as an earlier one that looked into people’s views on the ICC ruling to confirm charges against Kenyatta, Ruto, and two others on several counts of crimes against humanity. Ipsos Synovate did not release this section of the poll because of a High Court of Kenya ban on debate on whether Kenyatta and Ruto should be presidential aspirants. The High Court, which imposed the ban on February 2, lifted it on February 17.
Ipsos Synovate found that 48 percent of Kenyans support Kenyatta vying for the presidency despite his case before the ICC. On the opposite end, 46 percent of Kenyans do not believe Kenyatta should vie for the presidency now that the court has ruled he should stand trial. The remainder either do not know or did not respond to the question.
For Ruto, opinion is equally divided. Ipsos Synovate found that 47 percent support his presidential bid, while another 47 percent opposed it. The remainder either did not know or did not respond to the question.
When asked what would occur if Kenyatta was barred from running for president, 45 percent of the respondents said nothing would happen. Almost a third, or 28 percent, said that Kenyatta’s supporters would cause violence due to incitement, and nine percent said that he would have to accept the decision, according to the poll.
A slightly higher number – 47 percent – thought nothing will happen if Ruto is barred from contesting for Kenya’s presidency, according to the poll. Again, almost a third, or 29 percent, said that Ruto’s supporters would cause violence due to incitement, and eight percent said that he would have to accept the decision.
Notable is that Prime Minister Raila Odinga still leads a presidential contest if Kenyatta and Ruto do not participate, according to the poll. Odinga has the support of 34 percent of the respondents and his nearest rival is Vice President Kalonzo Musyoka with 22 percent.
This is significant because it means Kenyatta’s and Ruto’s support base is up for grabs in a scenario where neither man stands for presidency. This is explained by the numbers in the same poll when it takes into account a Kenyatta and Ruto candidacy.
In such a scenario Odinga remains the front runner, with 31 percent support. Kenyatta comes in second, with 24 percent, followed by Musyoka (10 percent) and Ruto (six percent). Once the two ICC accused persons are removed from the scenario, Musyoka’s support rises by 12 percentage points, but he does not gain all the support enjoyed by Kenyatta and Ruto, even though the vice president has been in a loose alliance with the two men.
Equally significant is that in a scenario where Kenyatta and Ruto are not presidential candidates, there are 17 percent of the respondents who say they are undecided, representing a potentially huge swing block.
In the case of Kenyatta and Ruto standing as presidential candidates, the undecided group is 15 percent of the respondents. Therefore, either way, the presidential field is far from clear. No presidential aspirant has secured the nomination of their political party so far, keeping the electoral field open.
The Ipsos Synovate poll is based on telephone interviews with 1,523 respondents conducted between January 27 and February 1, 2012. The margin of error is plus or minus 2.5 percent. The company funded the poll.
The full results of the poll are available here.