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Banning party hopping harmful to democracy

With the urging, nay express orders, of the leaders of the big parties, the Joint Select Committee on Electoral Reforms sneaked in a clause that will make party hopping a very tricky affair. The new law is every politician’s nightmare. First, the typical Kenyan politician has a predilection for promiscuity — of the political variety.

The rapidity and frequency with which they change political beds and bedfellows would make the most accomplished operative of a red-light district green with envy. Secondly, it is difficult to convince a Kenyan politician that they have lost a nomination or an election even when they have been beaten like an isukuti drum.

It also explains why party hopping is more pronounced during nominations. The sight of politicians literally running like headless chicken from the office of one little party to the next in search of the all-too-important nomination certificate would be comical, were it not depressing.

Depressing because it makes an unflattering statement about our retarded political system. More than half a century after independence, our politics is still at infancy. Political parties have refused to grow into ideological entities where people of shared principles and worldview organise with the aim of realising their ideals.

Parties are a little more than a means to the feeding trough and are only useful as long as they serve narrow and short term interests. And because they are mostly about personal interests, it is inevitable that a majority of them are owned by individuals whose interests are temporarily linked.

That is perhaps the biggest reason why the law preventing aspirants from changing parties during nominations is problematic. Since a majority of the parties are controlled by individuals or a group of influential politicians, the decision on who gets what certificate ultimately lies with the party owners.

Add that to the farcical exercises that are often passed off as party primaries. While Kenya has, in the last two decades, come a long way in how it conducts its general elections, parties are stuck in 1988.

The shortest queues still triumph over the longest. Issuance of nomination certificates is not always about who received the highest number of votes but who is favoured by the party owners and officials. In the worst cases, it is about how much money one can cough up.

There is enough evidence in the current Parliament, Senate, county assemblies and offices of county governors that party hopping at the last minute serves to rescue democracy from the tyranny of party owners and biased or corrupt party officials.

There are governors, senators, MPs and MCAs who won their seats after losing nominations in the big parties. While the new law is ideally a good thing that has the potential of building strong parties that can stand the test of time, in our current political culture, the law will only become a tool of control by the owners of parties.

In fact, it may encourage more splintering with every politician who fears being locked out at the nominations acquiring a party as an insurance against the unpredictable whims of party leaders.

Already, we are seeing such moves. Governors Isaac Ruto (Bomet) and Alfred Mutua (Machakos) are building their own parties because they have not been in good terms with the leaders of their parties while their Meru counterpart Peter Munya is clinging to supposedly defunct PNU because he doesn’t expect Jubilee Party nominations to favour him.

A few weeks ago, Governor Evans Kidero wrote to ODM about claims that the party already has a list of preferred nominees. The law will also encourage political entrepreneurs to establish start-ups or acquire established parties and get on with the business of making money by selling nomination papers to aspirants who know that they don’t stand a chance of being nominated by their parties. Why, one can even sell a party if the price is right![email protected]

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