The idea of political parties in Kenya is an immutable fallacy

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By Kelvin Njuguna

September of 2016 was the month when political parties made significant alignments and realignments in recent times. From the grand merger of affiliate parties of the Jubilee Coalition to form the Jubilee Party (JP) to the ten-year anniversary of the Orange Democratic Party (ODM); the tone for the August 2017 elections could not been better set.

What the parties haven’t been able to articulate is whether these parties have faithfully fulfilled the requisite requirements of a political party as enshrined in the Constitution of Kenya, 2010, and the Political Parties Act. Political parties in Kenya scandalously exist without regard to the lucid tenets of the law.

Political parties have become the embodiment of mobilisation capacities, influenced by tribal interests, and the reward has always been the distasteful polarisation of the country. Drafters of our Constitution envisaged that Article 91(1)(a) would cure this tenacious malady. The Article provides that every political party shall have a national character as prescribed by an Act of Parliament. Section 7(2)(b) of the Political Parties Act requires members recruited by any political party to be registered to represent ethnic and regional diversity.

Cause for worry

The brains behind the formation of JP have repeatedly invoked these provisions in their attempts to justify the folding of affiliate parties to the Jubilee Coalition. But this ought to be a cause for worry for those who fancy democracy. Most parties have perfected the art of naming officials from different ethnic backgrounds, but this has always been a mere façade that absolutely conceals the total absence of a national character in these parties.

The National Alliance party (TNA) and the United Republican Party (URP), which were significant in the ascent to power of the President and his deputy, never shook off the tag of being Kikuyu and Kalenjin outfits. The tribal situation in other parties that were folded to form JP was even direr. Despite the fanfare and passionate proclamations of unity that characterised its launch, it is arguable that the 2017 elections will adopt the same tribal trajectory of the previous elections.

Jubilee will still rely greatly on the vote rich regions of Central and the Rift Valley, largely because other regions have refused to embrace them. The parties that form the Coalition for Reforms and Democracy (Cord) offer little solace. It is noteworthy however that ODM enjoys some modicum of regional and ethnic diversity. However, Wiper and Ford Kenya would definitely struggle in justifying that they are not parties for the Kamba and Luhya respectively. The dearth in national character in political parties is clearly evident, and this ultimately makes their existence against the spirit of the constitution.

The Constitution in Article 91(1)(d) demands that political parties abide by the democratic principles of good governance, and promote and practice democracy through regular, fair and free elections within the party. This provision is just one of the plethora of provisions that have remained firm only in theory with the expected consequent practice being completely absent.

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