August 9

Debate that never was: Ruto, Mwaure attend as Raila skips

Tuesday, July 26th, 2022 21:28 | By
Deputy President William Ruto arrives at the Catholic University of East Africa yesterday for the presidential debate. PD/JOHN OCHIENG

The much-anticipated presidential debate last night turned into a one-man show after Azimio-One Kenya candidate Raila Odinga snubbed it, giving space and time to his rival, Deputy President William Ruto, to sell his agenda.

Earlier in the evening, George Wajackoyah of the Roots Party also snubbed the first part of the debate, leaving David Mwaure to enjoy the limelight.

The first debate was for candidates who had scored below five per cent in the last three opinion polls. The second, which started at 8pm, was for those with more than five per cent.

Yesterday’s had been billed as the ultimate round of the heavyweight clash between Raila and Ruto, the top two protagonists for the presidency in this year’s State House race, which is now 12 days away.

Kenyans took to social media, particularly Twitter, to express their views on the four candidates and their performance with opinions divided along party lines. Those who expressed support for Raila said it was a good decision to skip the debate.

Unfit to lead

Speaking in Kianjai, Meru at a campaign rally in the afternoon, Raila said he would not be facing Ruto, who he said was unfit to lead the country.

“They are saying I’m scared of him. How can I be? I can never be scared of him,” said Raila, who spent the day in Meru County addressing rallies.

But when Ruto attended the debate, he said: “We will discuss the economy, youth unemployment, education for our children, health and we know Kenyans are waiting to hear what we have to say.”

He was accompanied by his running mate Rigathi Gachagua, who took on Raila’s running mate, Martha Karua, in a similar debate last week.

Corruption and the economy have been key agendas in this year’s campaigns. Raila, a former prime minister, has anchored his campaign on an anti-corruption platform. He has promised to rid the country of it if elected.

Ruto has focused on the economy. He has accused the government of weaponising the war on corruption to intimidate leaders who hold divergent views.

He had at the weekend expressed interest in taking part in yesterday’s debate, the last in a series organised by broadcast media stations.

At the Catholic University, from where the debate was being televised, Ruto, who is seeking to be Kenya’s fifth president, immersed himself in free publicity offered by the TV stations. He had earlier accused the media of bias, initially indicating that his attendance would be conditional.

Opinion polls

In an indication that he was not taking the debate lightly, the DP had taken a day-long break from his packed campaign schedule to prepare for it. He had been scheduled to lead vote-hunting missions in Baringo, Nakuru and Nyandarua but called them off.

In the first tier debt, Wajackoyah, who has enjoyed about four per cent popularity rating in recent opinion polls, made a brief appearance before walking out.

He had demanded that all the four candidates appear on the same platform to face the panel. He walked out after finding out that only he and Mwaure had been slated to take part in the first debate.

Wajackoyah has injected euphoria into the presidential campaign because of his unconventional campaigns.

“I am not attending unless we are four,” said the Roots Party candidate at the entrance to the debating hall.

Earlier, he told People Daily his concerns had not been addressed by the organising committee.

“We are not going to agree to this discrimination. I will go for the debate involving all the four candidates. If not, I will not attend,” he said.

During the debate session, Mwaure, who is rated in opinion polls as fourth with less than one per cent popularity, faulted his opponent for not turning up to face him. He also defended his decision to run for the top office despite attracting little attention, saying he had every right to pursue his dreams.

“I want to show Kenyans why it is possible to have fresh blood in leadership and why they should elect me. As Lupita Nyong’o said, every dream is valid,” he said. “I want to show them that it is possible to elect people who don’t have lots of money and helicopters.”

No value

On the war against corruption, the Agano candidate said he was the most qualified to lead the country.

He said his rivals had enjoyed lengthy tenures in leadership but had done nothing to change the lives of Kenyans. 

Earlier, ODM secretary general Edwin Sifuna said they did not see any value in the televised debates. 

“This has nothing to do with Raila’s physical fitness,” Sifuna said. “The issue is we are not going to extract any value from the debate for the Kenyan voters.” 

Last week, however, Karua, took part in a debate against Gachagua. Wajackoyah’s running mate, Justina Wamae, also took on Mwaure’s running mate, Ruth Mutua.

On Sunday, Elgeyo-Marakwet Senator Kipchumba Murkomen claimed Raila, 77, had decided to skip the event because he was not fit.

However, Azimio Secretary Elizabeth Meyo yesterday said Raila had pulled out of the debate because of the character of his opponent.

Meyo told People Daily that the secretariat was busy working on the modalities of the Jericho town hall meeting, which has been pushed to tomorrow. The meeting had been earlier scheduled to coincide with the debate. Raila and Karua are both scheduled to engaged the public on their plans for the country.

Sources also confided in People Daily that Raila and Karua will also have a media platform to answer questions from the public on how their administration intends to tackle various issues should they win the August election.

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