Saturday, January 26, 2013



P. Anyang' Nyong'o
January 20th, 2013

If nominations for political parties are to be done through universal adult suffrage by secret ballot which we have tried, then it should be done by the IEBC with parties paying for the costs. I approached the IEBC with this proposal a few months ago but I was turned down. The reason I was given was that the IEBC was busy preparing for the General Elections and would find little time for this nomination exercise.

Further, the IEBC argued that as a court of last resort when disputes arise from the elections, it cannot conduct party nominations. It was up to the parties to design methods of nomination that they can handle. It is now quite clear to me that this method of nomination, complicated by having to nominate 5 different candidates at the same time, is a nightmare to all political parties. So why perpetuate the fiction that parties can or should nominate their candidates through universal suffrage? I do not think so.

Let us learn something from other democracies. In Great Britain, neither the Labour Party nor the Conservative Party indulges in this extravagance in nominating their candidates for elections at any level. It is the responsibility of the party leadership and organs to identify the candidates and present them to the electorate for election. The national Labour Party, for example, is always engaged in the exercise of evaluating the performance of the party in all constituencies in readiness for elections. In this regard, it is in constant touch with constituency labour party branches.

There are constituencies which the party regards as "safe" constituencies where any labour party candidate can win in any election. In such constituencies, the party will send qualified party members who are electable to run on the party ticket. In marginal constituencies more work is done to ensure that both the candidate and the party are capable of winning the hearts and minds of the people based on several factors that need to be taken into consideration.

In the USA they have what are call "primaries" where party members vote a preferred candidate to compete with candidates of other political parties in the main elections. The USA primaries are not all based on universal suffrage. There are states, like Iowa, where they use "caucuses". Further, not all states hold the primaries at the same time. Primaries are scheduled sequentially from one state to the other to give the political parties and the candidates enough time and space to organize and manage the primaries effectively.

The rules of competition in both Great Britain and the USA are very clear; they leave little room for ambiguity. Further, traditions have been built over time, which make political competition civil and devoid of barbaric conflicts. Even in younger democracies like Botswana, such barbaric behavior that we see candidates and their supporters exhibiting in Kenya are conspicuous by their absence. So what is wrong with us?

Nothing really is wrong with us except that we have come up with rules and procedures for political competition which are naive and by their very nature provide room for unnecessary conflict. But let that statement not appear as letting some people off the hook; political violence is wrong and the culture of breeding hooliganism as a necessary component of our electioneering must not only be heavily punished by the state but must be stopped urgently. Unfortunately some state actors, through monetary gain, also indulge in it on behalf of candidates. But let us look into the process in detail.

First, it is not fair to outsource the responsibility of identifying candidates for elections to the general public; this is silly, unfair and unnecessarily cumbersome. The electorate expects political parties to identify candidates in the least expensive and conflict free process provided the candidates so identified are qualified, competent, electable and meet the objectives and policies of the party.

Second, the general public should not be subjected to two general elections so as to elect one representative; both the logic and the arithmetic don't add up. The first process of identification of a candidate should be purely a party affair in accordance with that party's rules. In Kenya, a party that chooses to do primaries through universal adult suffrage without having the capacity or technology to do so is simply setting itself up for problems; this is a baptism by fire we are currently going through. If experience is anything we learn from, this should be it: never again.

Third, let us not demonize other methods of choosing candidates as inferior to the universal suffrage route: romance and populism always aim higher than either the intellect or the real world we can comprehend. So let us all take some deep breath and say, in unison, romance and populism are part of human behavior but we should not be doomed for a period of time to walk the political night with both.

Next time, this is what we should do. We must accept that a political party, in the first place, is a club. In Kenya we should be in a position to understand what this means and have a second look at the laws that govern political parties in this light. There is a strong feeling that something is rotten in the way our laws were hurriedly written and amended in Parliament.
While we may be currently smelling this rot, we are not quite sure where the odor is coming from. Let us hope that the eleventh parliament will be able to come up with fresh noses to smell it, clean it up and set up a better modus operandi for running future elections.