Saturday, January 5, 2013




P. Anyang' Nyong'o
Sunday Standard, January 6th. 2013

I have been impressed by the number of articles, commentaries, editorials and opinion pieces that have been published in the Kenyan daily newspapers on the ODM nomination process. Radio commentators and editorials, let alone call-in sessions, have equally been preoccupied with the same issue, always putting the party in the spotlight of current political party activities.

All this awesome attention paid to the party over and above other parties can only signify one thing: that the ODM is the party to watch, particularly at a time when it is in partnership with Wiper Democratic Party and FORD-Kenya in the Coalition for Reform and Democracy (CORD). Kenyans have great hope in the ODM as a transformative and progressive party, hence the high standards expected from it.

Alternatively, there could be an even more sinister motive behind this focus on the ODM nomination process by certain writers and commentators: that of trying to undermine and discredit the nomination process so as to diminish the image of the party during this very important process of getting credible candidates to compete and win in the coming general elections. Once the process is discredited the outcome can be equally undermined. Taking incidents from the past, an impression is created that the same mistakes and problems are likely to be repeated. Hence the refrain of "the nominations are bound to be rigged." Recent facts, however, prove the contrary. Let me explain.

In the November/December 2007 nomination process, the party experienced tremendous problems in nominating candidates. There were certain disastrous situations where candidates who were winners in the process actually "lost" to their opponents. The Party Leader eventually called all competitors to the Bomas of Kenya for a meeting which did a postmortem on the nomination where it was agreed that the results would be respected on condition that radical reforms were undertaken in the party's National Elections Board to avoid such blunders in the future.

That exercise was undertaken with speed, and Engineer Phillip Okundi took over as Chairman and Dr. Misoi as Secretary of the Board. For the 5 years during which Okundi led the Board it conducted very successful nominations for all the bye elections that were held in such constituencies as Embakasi, Ainamoi, Shinyalu, Ikolomani, Kamkunji, Starehe, Makadara, Bomet, Sotik, Ndhiwa, Kajiado North and a host of ward bye elections across the nation. Much of the complaints that were recently heard at the aftermath of the Ndhiwa bye election was the result of the delayed arrival of ballot papers in only one polling station out of 147. Indeed the losers had no other tangible complaints save for logistical issues arising from presiding officers who were unfamiliar with the Ndhiwa terrain.

While the CORD must make sure logistical problems do not compromise the integrity of the nomination process, it is also equally important for the CORD fraternity to discuss such issues with restraint and not cause panic unnecessarily among our voters. Alarming statements like "the nominations are not going to be fair" without any concrete evidence of encountered problems create fear  for no reason. The National Elections Board, led by Hon. Franklin Bett, is ready all the time to listen to suggestions that can help the Board improve its performance.

The question very often raised among all democratic parties the world over is what kind of process should political parties adopt in identifying candidates for competitive elections against other parties?

In Great Britain the Labour Party does not involve itself in a protracted nomination process through primaries that resemble a general election like we do. Constituency Labour Parties, which are effectively the branches of the party at the national level, identify qualified candidates with known truck records in the party for nomination by the party leadership at the national level. This is essentially a process of internal democracy within the party accepted by members as effective, efficient and responsive to the needs of the party which is to win elections, form the government and rule the country in line with its manifesto.

In South Africa the ANC  follows a process not very different from that followed by Labour. It is the party organs which are charged with the responsibility of leadership development, recruitment and eventually nomination to compete in general elections.

Many political parties would find what happens in Kenya rather strange. Here people believe that a political party can only get good leaders through an open system where a mini general election is held, baptized as a nomination process, and open to anybody who professes to be a member of the party even if he or she joined the morning of presenting his or her papers. We could excuse ourselves by saying that our parties are still young. But this is not a very good reason for not wanting to grow up!

The litmus test for democracy in political parties is not based so much on whether or not they hold primaries which are like general elections  but whether they conduct themselves in accordance with the rules and regulations formulated by their members, accepted by them and exercised without favor among all members. That is why democratic elections are often defined as struggles over rules of the electoral game before they become struggles over elections themselves.

Currently intense struggles are going on within political parties over the rules governing nominating candidates for elections. Once the leaders and members accept certain rules as fair and legitimate then it is possible to expect diverse formulae used to nominate candidates other than the open primary system. In Northern Kenya, for example, clans deliberate over a period of time and eventually arrive at who the acceptable candidate is. Nobody can deny such a system the democratic tag.

Likewise, there was a lot of hue and cry in certain counties where some leaders came together and agreed on how to support one another in sharing and running for different posts. There is nothing undemocratic about this provided it does not stop any other person who is not part of such an accord from entering competition for any of the seats so shared. Democracy does not mean that all forms of methods adopted in a competitive election must be the same. All it means is that the competitive process must be open enough to allow for multiple choices that can produce ideas and leadership in the use of state power for democratic and good governance following the elections.