REFLECTIONS ON ELECTORAL FIASCOS | Macharia Munene

MACHARIA MUNENE

Macharia MuneneMajor political parties in Kenya went through what should have been a routine exercise which in reality turned out to be orchestrated fiascos. The major ones, the Jubilee and the CORD coalitions, displayed either gross incompetence or political mischief. It probably was both. As a result, party primary nomination exercises were disgraceful and put them into disrepute. The disgrace gave rise to three inter-related political developments. First, increased erosion of the influence of political barons on their people as defiance of "party leader" became normal. Secondly, the beneficiaries of that erosion were small political parties, such as Alfred Mutua's Maendeleo Chap Chap, which politically harvested so much that it emerged as the third largest political party after Jubilee and NASA-Pentagon. Thirdly, the erosion also led to the "independence" phenomenon in which unprecedented number of candidates ditched their parties and thrust themselves into the political scene as independents.

There were, however, limited moments of encouragements. In Uasin Gishu voters ignored natural born or ethnic candidates and elected Swarup Mishra of Indian origin, as their prospective MP. This showed they were concerned with performance and not race or origin. After the Jubilee officialdom postponed the nomination exercise nationally, President Uhuru Kenyatta came out and apologized to the party faithfuls for the mess-up. There were losing candidates, some grumblingly, who took the high ground, accepted defeat, and promised to campaign for the president. These included Kabando wa Kabando in Mukurweini, Isaac Mwaura in Ruiru, Mary Wambui and Simon Nderitu Gachunia in Othaya, Governor Benjamin Cheboi in Baringo, and Jamleck Kamau in Muranga. There was drama in Kiambu where sitting Governor William Kabago was the first in the country to concede defeat to the team of Ferdinand Waititu and James Nyoro, mainly because he had lost in his own polling station, only to change his mind. He joined the band of "independent" candidates and became one of its key organisers.

There are two types of independents. The first type comprises candidates who had decided long before that they did not want affiliation with any political party. They did not subscribe to any of the party policies or accept the leadership of the party. They wanted a guaranteed way to ensure that their names appear in the final ballot paper. Being independent was one sure way to ensure name in the ballot paper.

The desire to be in the final ballot paper links these to the second type of independents. These are those who have no substantial difference with party policies or leadership but felt jilted. In the group are different politicians, some are disillusioned with their parties, others were cheated in the primaries, and some are suffering from the sense of vanity. For those who felt short-changed, becoming independent is a way of challenging their "leaders" and party officials. There are also those who suffer from a sense of vanity and can later boast that they were "candidates."

What made the public disappointment serious was the high expectation of political decency that leaders had generated. ODM, WIPER, and Jubilee were loud about their efficiency and the security measures that they had taken to ensure that all would run with precision. They promised fairness and peacefulness in the primaries in their party democracy. Yet they seemed to bulldoze and impose some candidates over others. Among those to grumble, whether they "won" or "lost", were supposed party stalwarts. They included WIPER Chairman David Musila and party financier Johnstone Muthama. In ODM Jakoyo Midiwo and Paul Utuoma broke ranks with party leader Raila Odinga. And in Jubilee, there were Governors Jackson Kiplagat Mandago of Uasin Gishu and Kabogo of Kiambu complaining about Deputy President William Ruto who reportedly interfered by "sponsoring" favourites.

It part, the disappointment was because the parties were not prepared but engaged in political mischief. They made excuses for failure to deliver and just looked bad. ODM had the peculiar habit of giving the same victory certificate to rival candidates whose followers inflicted body injuries on each other. This was after "parallel" tallying with each side having a "returning officer" who declared its official winner. It appeared like practice for August 8, 2017, when the ODM, given its public statements, will ignore the IEBC and declare its own winner. The Jubilee failures, given the air of confidence that it had exuded, were surprising as it was forced to postpone everything. Subsequent claims that it had underprepared because it did not expect a huge voter turnout made little sense and could not explain inability to open polling stations on time. It had poor coordination or sense of party authority and communication as the headquarters sounded ridiculous contradicting what was in the field. All types of confusion, therefore, prevailed. A few observations emerged.

One:
The parties gave mixed signals as to which "register" election officials were to use in permitting people to vote. Was it only party members who were to vote or was it any voter who had an ID or a voter's card? And there was no mechanism for stopping people who had voted from double voting.

Two:
Party bosses could not contain emerging rebellion that swept out "stalwarts" and also produced rising political stars. While they succeeded in imposing their will in some places, they failed in others and were exposed as vulnerable.

Three:
The credibility and image of hitherto "respectable" people was shattered. Although their misbehavior could be dismissed as "politics", it went beyond "politics" into the realm of criminality and immorality.

Four:
The fiascos in the primaries exposed party incompetence, provided opportunity for the IEBC to learn lessons to avoid future mistakes and the likely dangers from political parties that are bent on usurping the IEBC mandate.

Five:
There are at least some honourable men and women who won fairly or who accepted defeat with dignity instead of throwing tantrums.

Six:
The overwhelming turn out of voters meant that there could be a large turnout at the 8th August elections. The IEBC needs to be well prepared to handle large turnout of voters.

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