2017 is an election year, and right before the election, we have this spectacle called political party nominations. It usually looks (to outsiders like me) like a trainwreck – messy and destructive. I’ve seen pictures of all manner of campaign tactics – there’s an MP aspirant for Bureti called Kibet Komingoi who has his face and hopeful title on a packet of salt and a bag of sugar.
Why are party nominations important? We all know that certain parties are more popular in certain regions because of the tribal nature of our politics, and the fact that political parties here are tribal alliances, not ideological ones. So, if you want a higher guarantee for a position, be it governor, senator, woman representative, MP or MCA, the party you belong to counts. It makes the campaign process easier, because you’re not starting the race at a disadvantage – which you may be if you are an independent, or running on a party ticket that’s not popular in your region.
The reason we had such a rush to party hop is because of the deadlines set by the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) for political parties to submit their nomination rules and membership registers. The submission of nomination rules ended on March 2nd, while that of membership registers ended on March 19th. Then, political parties submitted the names of candidates who would participate in their primaries in the week beginning March 26th.
Our law currently restricts party hopping to 45 days before elections, which of course would mean that if you lose a nomination, you can always hop to a new party. This tends to happen in Kenya because political parties here have no platforms or positions that they hold steadfast – they are mere vehicles, to be created and dissolved at will before each election season. The politicians also had another requirement removed. Initially, they were restricted from having their names included in the party list if they were contesting for nomination, but that has since changed.
A positive change is that now, only members of a party can vote in the primaries. This means if you are to win a ticket, you can’t just import people from wherever and have them swing the vote in your favour at the primaries. They have to be members first. However, our devious politicians have found a way around this. They have been getting people’s names and ID numbers and enrolling them as members without their consent. It is possible that they acquired them from watchmen in those buildings that require that you leave your ID, or from MPesa shop records. Whichever is the case, in the past few weeks we’ve had people discovering they are members of political parties yet they did not sign up. No doubt many of these people will not be able to remove themselves from party membership lists, and will likely be counted as voters in the primaries without their consent.
Many of the amendments politicians have made to the Political Parties Act are intended to cushion big losers. That is, people who are influential in the party either because of their financial standing, or their social standing. Parties want these people to have a soft landing – to be rewarded in some way. Because they can now be included in the party list after losing the primaries, they can then be nominated to Senate or The National Assembly.
An interesting thing to note is that – the people who won their seats under the parties that merged to form the Jubilee Party did not lose their seats because they were not expelled by their former parties. This is because of the agreement the parties had not to expel these members. Therefore, their party membership will officially change after the general election. However, the people who have moved to or from parties that are hostile to one another risk losing their seats before the election because they could be expelled by the parties that sponsored their tickets in the last election.
It’s important to remember that nominations are very delicate, and previous ones have been marred by violence, because everyone knows what’s at stake and some are willing to do whatever to get on a party ticket. There is a valid fear of losing party nominations to the favourites of party leaders, which is why there has been a lot of pre-emptive party hopping. Nobody wants to be the fool. This is why parties are scrambling to reassure people that nominations will be free and fair. This election is particularly messy because there is an incumbent, whom the opposition rightly wants to replace. So any politicians his Jubilee Party loses equal a potential game changing loss of votes come August.
Let’s look at the Elections Act. Our constitution says that a political party must have “a national character”. The Elections Act makes this specific, by providing that national character will be met if a party registers at least 1,000 members in at least half of the counties in Kenya. Therefore a lawful political party must have at least 24,000 members and these must be spread in not less than half the counties in the country. This is a high threshold to clear, which is why many of us have been registered to political parties without our consent. This means that we may have to reduce this threshold for the nomination and election process to be freer and fairer in future.
As the primaries happen later in the month (Jubilee will have theirs on April 21st 2017, ODM on April 13th 2017, other parties also have theirs from the 13th onward) these are some of the matters you should keep in mind.