Kenya polls predict slim win for Odinga

Traditionally regarded as a Western fad, regularly conducted opinion polls have acquired phenomenal significance in Kenya, as the top two presidential candidates—President Mwai Kibaki and his main opposition challenger Raila Odinga—head for what looks like a photo-finish in the election on December 27.

Statistics released by four independent polling companies last Friday indicate that the race is too close to call, although Odinga currently enjoys a 4% lead over the president.

The verdict of the four groups—the Steadman Group, Consumer Insight, Infotrack Harries and Strategic Research—is that the gap between the two leading candidates lies within the margin of error.

Steadman, the most influential of the four polling companies, reflected Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) presidential candidate Odinga leading with 46%, while Kibaki, who is running on the Party of National Unity (PNU) ticket came in second with 42%. Kalonzo Musyoka, the candidate for the Orange Democratic Movement Party of Kenya (ODM-K) came a distant third with only 10%.

Meanwhile, Infotrack Harris predicted on Thursday last week that Odinga would win the poll with 43,7% ahead of Kibaki, who had 39,2%, while Musyoka garnered 15,2%. The two other pollsters also had Odinga leading by several percentage points.

But now the pollsters have themselves become the cause of controversy.
Over the past few months, Steadman Group managing director George Waititu has been forced to ward off a flurry of allegations that his firm is manipulating the opinion polls to hoodwink the electorate into voting for the incumbent, whose support has been dipping since leading parties picked their presidential candidates in September.

Waititu maintained this week that the group’s statistics were not manipulated. “Steadman will be vindicated in the fullness of time. I wish to categorically deny that the opinion polls are doctored. The voters’ verdict will vindicate us as thoroughly professional and unbiased,” he told the Mail & Guardian.

Waititu added that although opinion polls were a relatively recent phenomenon in Kenya, they have become a valuable mechanism for the electorate to provide feedback to the government .“We are seeing a trend where the governed are able [to] talk back to the governors. The public wants to hold their leaders to account,” he said.

Since Steadman correctly predicted that the government would lose the 2005 referendum on a new constitution it has become influential in shaping public perception and its findings are deemed critical in tipping the balance of opinion on national issues.

Politicians in both the opposition and the government have poured vitriol and praise in equal measure on Steadman’s last two opinion polls, which have prompted accusations of manipulation because of the firm’s directors’ proximity to the president.

In a statement, the opposition said last week that two Steadman directors, Joe Wanjui and Waititu, both of whom are known to be trusted friends and key advisors of Kibaki, were doctoring the polls.

In early December the ODM accused Wanjui and Waititu of attempting to print additional ballot papers in Belgium in order to rig the polls. The allegation, which Waititu denied on Tuesday and which has not been substantiated, kicked off a national debate over the veracity of the Steadman poll results.

ODM and ODM-K said that two recent polls contained inconsistencies that were indicative of possible doctoring of the poll outcome.

In one of the polls, the total of the three leading candidates was 101% after Kibaki clawed back from a low of 37% to 39%, while Odinga’s lead dropped from 53% to 45% in early November. Later in the same month, the poll showed the two neck-and-neck at 43,3% and 43,6% respectively, before Odinga rallied to take the lead with 46% last week.

The opposition accused Steadman of bias and of deliberately reducing Odinga’s lead in the polls.

The opposition’s accusations were bolstered somewhat by the findings of a recent report from the government’s intelligence service, which this week estimated that Odinga was ahead by between 8% to 15% of the vote.

The intelligence report, a copy of which the M&G has seen, predicted that Odinga would win with 5,6-million votes, or 55,9%, placing Kibaki in second place with 3,1-million votes or 31,09%, and Musyoka third with 1,2-million votes, or 12,9%.

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