Thursday, December 1, 2011



By Jerry Okungu
Nairobi, Kenya
November 30, 2011

The rigging and violence that takes place when a political party holds its internal elections is a good breeding ground for the problems we end up having during national elections. Let us face it; political parties in this country are not yet mature enough to conduct elections in a civilized manner.  They are still steeped in the era of KANU because the same party leaders we have today are the products of that same KANU era. For how else can a party official in this day and age opt for a mlolongo system that Moi experimented with in 1988 and failed miserably? How can any right thinking party functionary employ a system that failed 23 years ago and has since been roundly condemned?

If political parties are serious about building a culture of an open, credible, transparent and democratic election; if they are really keen on nurturing democracy in this country, then the best place to start is at the party level. You cannot practice hooliganism, thuggery and deceit at the party level and expect to be credible at the national level. It doesn’t just work that way.

We have had enough violence, rigging and general dishonesty during party or municipal council elections from time immemorial. We cannot afford to continue with muscle men getting elected to posts they do not deserve. We cannot afford to go back to the days when councillors would be taken out of town and kept in a hotel room being feted by prospective council chairs and mayors until the voting day. Those days must be buried in the past. We are in a new Kenya.

Let political parties take the cue from the Football fraternity in Kenya. For many years, it was impossible to have credible elections of national officials. It was always a battleground with fists, stones and sticks winning the polls. Thereafter it would be followed by endless wrangles and court cases that rendered managing the game impossible. In the end these opportunists ruined the game in Kenya.

This year, Kenya’s football fraternity turned a new leaf. With the help of FIFA’s appointed Election Board, we held a peaceful football election for the first time in many years.
 However, even the FIFA board chose not to conduct the elections themselves. They decided to give the job to a tested and trusted institution. They hired the services of the Interim Independent Election Commission of Kenya to do it for them. Though hardly three years old, the IIEC had conducted very successful and peaceful by-elections arising out of the 2007 petitions. More importantly, the Commission successfully managed the 2010 national referendum that was lauded locally and abroad. It was to that outfit that Joe Okwatch’s board turned to for credibility. Since that election, all those loudmouths that used to bore us with their perceived popularity have gone silent. They were defeated by Sam Nyamweya in an open and fair contest. And it was by secret ballot. No decadent mlolongo stuff.

At the moment, the most organized and structured political party in Kenya is the ODM. It has a head office that is vibrant and a beehive of activities all year round. It has a secretariat that is efficiently run by a director and no nonsense Finance Manager. When you go to the ODM headquarters, you feel that you have entered a real serious business outfit. Security at the gate is polite and friendly. They will willingly show you a parking lot and give you basic information you may require even before you enter the office. And when you enter the office, it is all smiles from friendly staff.

Why should such an organized party be unable to hold a flawless election? The reason they cannot do it is because election managers are also politicians and therefore are interested parties in the final outcome. They cannot be completely detached from the election results even if the party leader reminds them for the umpteenth time that they should conduct elections in a fair and transparent manner and that no one should use the Party Leader’s name to influence voters.

Compared to ODM, I have yet to hear other parties hold well publicized elections in the last eight years. If anything, most of them opt for boardroom techniques of sharing slots without involving their membership. The last time KANU held its elections was some time in 2003. Since then pleas from party members to have its chairman convene elections have fallen on deaf ears.

The reason most parties don’t hold regular elections as per their party constitutions is their fear of losing grip on the party and subsequent loss of the main parliamentary elections.
What is even worse, we have had a moribund Registrar of Political Parties that has been afraid to implement the Political Parties Act to its maximum. In the end, we have had most parties being managed by individuals who have no respect for the law, any law on the land.

ODM stands the best chance of winning next year’s elections. It will increase its chances tenfold if it begins to take its party elections more seriously by weeding out the bad eggs that are polluting the air unnecessarily.

Let the ODM Secretariat and its Election Board take the bold step of handing over the remaining elections, repeat elections and next year’s Annual Delegates Conference to the now instituted Independent Elections and Boundaries Commission. Let Isaak Hassan do it for the sake of the party and the people of Kenya. Chairman Philip Okundi and Director Janet Ongera; you can do this for the party and for Kenya. I’m sure your example will be quickly emulated by other parties.