IEBC proposal on primaries ill-timed

Wednesday, March 16th, 2022 23:54 | By
Wafula chebukati-presidential aspirants
IEBC chairperson Wafula Chebukati. PHOTO/Courtesy

Political parties are among the primary pillars of a parliamentary democracy such as Kenya’s.  They provide the platform on which actors compete for power to actualise personal aspirations and implement their dreams for  constituents and the country.

There is no doubt about the challenges that come with highly-personalised and ethnicised political parties especially in nascent democracies.

Here the environment for competition continues to be constantly skewed and factors that form the basis  for solidarity with candidates continue to revolve around selfish, even primordial, interests at the expense of progressive ideas and a genuine desire to serve.

With the country barely four months to the August election, candidates for various political seats are burning the midnight oil as they cobble together campaigns and respond to realignments ahead of party primaries, witah March 26 being a critical date in the journey to the polls.  This is the deadline by which political parties must have presented their members list to the Registrar of Political Parties.

Perhaps to forestall what appears to be a huge number of possible defections after the primaries that could increase the cost of the polls by the candidature of many independents, the electoral agency has proposed radical amendments to the Elections Act. The key objective of the changes is to bar losers in primaries from running as independents. 

The Elections Act provides a window through which a candidate who has lost in the primaries can divorce his or her party and vie as an independent but they cannot join another outfit. 

Anyone familiar with history regarding the conduct of primaries in Kenya would understand the reason for the window.  Party primaries are usually characterised by rigging, bribery and favouritism that results in credible candidates being locked out.

Though the key parties have promised free and fair primaries, aspirants for various posts are sitting on the edge ready for any eventuality as they calculate fallback positions in case of dodgy elections. This is the primary reason for party-hopping. And the cure can’t be found in suffocating law amendments aimed to box political competitors into a corner and deny them any avenues for recourse in case of mischief.

The answer to such political migration is to strengthen parties to enable them conduct credible primaries as envisaged both in our election laws, the Constitution and as guided by the historic 2017 Supreme Court decision.

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