The electorate votes for high quality candidates when given the chance. That chance is, however, almost exclusively obtained at the party nominations stage where, regrettably, the considerations, organization and dynamics at play are usually less oriented towards quality than towards domination by moneybags, elite party networks, nepotism and incumbents.
Kenya’s first real experience with party primaries was during the infamous 1988 Kanu Mlolongo nominations, where a farce of gargantuan proportions was carried out. ‘Mlolongo’ is Kiswahili for ‘queue’ and it involved dispensing with the secret ballot and the voters lining up behind their candidates. Mark Too (now deceased) famously described it as “open-air democracy”.
This farce led to bitter fallout that crystallised a rebellion within Kanu, and was a major driver of the clamour for multiparty politics. Candidates with visibly much shorter queues were declared winners and the then ruling party ratified the blatant in-your-face fraud. According to Martin Shikuku (now deceased), massive ballot fraud was conducted by Kanu. In the party nominations, Shikuku allegedly had 4,000 votes more than those of his rival, a month prior to the general election, and had qualified to go in unopposed as per the rules, but was nevertheless subjected to the election three weeks later.
‘RIGGED AGAINST ME’
During the general election, Shikuku lost by 400 votes to his opponent.
“This result has been rigged against me by local officials and Kanu,” Shikuku said.
Mwai Kibaki called a press conference after he lost in the nominations and made the infamous jibe at Moi, “Even rigging requires a modicum of intelligence.”
Shikuku and Kibaki would be in the opposition at the next election.
If the mass voter registration phase were the presidential election before the poll, party nominations will be the other candidates’ elections before the elections. This is because party nominations are candidate centered while general elections are generally party centered, with a few exceptions. Dominant parties in a region will command up to 90 per cent of the seats. Kenya’s new electoral system under the 2010 Constitution has five elective positions besides the presidency: Senator, governor, MP, Woman representative and MCA will very well be decided at the nominations.
Between March 26 and April 26, all parties participating in the August 8 election will hold what are expected to be rigorous nominations. The IEBC has listed April 13-26 as the timeline within which the nominations should take place. Ideally, these primaries are about party democratisation and are an inclusive way of candidate selection. The main parties, the Jubilee Party and the constituent parties under the National Super Alliance — ODM, Wiper, Ford Kenya and ANC — will be in the spotlight for what promises to be duels that will have devastating consequences for very many candidates, and on Kenya’s democracy.
The nominations towards the 2013 election were approached with a semblance of decency. It was the first election since the 2007-08 post-election violence that came under a new legal regime, institutions and the global spotlight. The blunders back then were few and the consequences equally limited. This time around, the inherent guilt of the 2008 horror is off. The spotlight isn’t as bright, all gloves are off and a fisticuffs nominations and general election are to be expected.
Top of the issues at hand is the one fact that allowed different communities living in one county to have a negotiated democracy — sharing of positions and power. Parties and candidates were keen on ensuring their lineups respected local circumstances. Not anymore. In the counties of Migori and Embu where the negotiated democracy worked and ensured diversity was enforced, fallouts have been huge and positions have hardened. Power this time round will be exclusive.
UNDOING ‘NEGOTIATED DEMOCRACY’
In Migori, Senator Wilfred Machage has abandoned the arrangement in which his Kuria people voted in harmony with the Luo for a lineup that reflected this reality. In Embu, Senator Lenny Kivuti from the Mbeere and elected on the APK ticket, had an Embu as the governor candidate. Governor Martin Wambora, an Embu, won and for a while, harmony reigned. The negotiated democracy arrangement in both counties have now failed and the two are expected to compete against each other. It is likely that dominant communities or a coalition of minority communities will contest the elections and thereafter win in exclusionary circumstances. In the post-nominations phase, the election into the 2017-2022 term, local conflicts for resources and power will escalate. Party headquarters in Nairobi will have little power to control this.
Since nominations are the election before elections in specific party strongholds, the competition will be divisive, fierce and inevitably violent. The anti-party hopping clause in the electoral laws, if upheld by the courts, will have the effect of caging all the lions in one pen in a do-or-die contest. Several low-level electoral conflicts that have nothing to do with the presidential election are all going to reach a crescendo at the nominations and pour into the post-election period. It is unlikely the country is prepared for this scenario. Displacement of local populations to disenfranchise them will rise in the form of the conflicts currently underway in Baringo and Laikipia.
Nominations have the distinct feature of participation by the most politically engaged population at the grassroots level. The mainstream mainly keeps away during this time. In the example of the 2016 American presidential primaries in both the Democratic and Republican parties, the activists, those usually on the extreme or fringes of the party establishment, effectively made their mark. In the DNC, Senator Bernie Sanders took the competition to Hillary Clinton on the strength of the more liberal and progressive party activists and the young. In the GOP, the silent majority effectively derailed all the establishment and mainstream candidates. In April, the most politically active people at the grassroots, many with more entrenched opinions and interests, will likely determine candidates at the nominations.
The effect of this is a situation like the 2013 Nairobi TNA race for governor, where a more bucolic Ferdinand Waititu prevailed over a more urbane Jimnah Mbaru. The choice of the party grassroots and its consequent aftermath may have very well cost it the seat at the general election. A lot of mainstream and established candidates will very well face the same fate.
The nominations will also be highly skewed by party headquarters and officials. Regardless of the political rhetoric, there are favoured candidates in certain races. Aspects of kingmaking are inevitable in an electoral process. This is already evident in Nairobi, where Peter Kenneth is increasingly coming out as the Jubilee establishment’s candidate against a grassroots-oriented Senator Mike Sonko. Kenneth seems to be preferred not just for Nairobi but for the subterranean succession politics underway in Mt Kenya.
If this is so, Team Nairobi of Sonko, Dagoretti South MP Dennis Waweru, nominated MP Johnson Sakaja and Margaret Wanjiru is cooked. In Nairobi NASA politics, the absolute and salient domination Governor Evans Kidero has in every aspect of opposition politics has negated any competition against him for the ticket. The same is true for Mombasa, where the ascendancy of Governor Hassan Joho will probably put to rest Senator Hassan Omar’s ambitions for governor, with the concurrence of coalition headquarters and party leaders.
While there are establishment preferred candidates, there are also candidates insufferable by the establishment who must lose at whatever cost. In fact, for most parties, ensuring that these candidates do not even participate in their party primaries is the most effective way of eliminating their candidature.
The Jubilee Party turned down Maina Njenga’s candidacy for the Laikipia Senate position on what is an opposed values and norms claim. In 2013, Nairobi ODM eliminated Kidero’s competition in nefarious ways, including Wanjiru on an academic credentials basis. It was highly unlikely that Kidero would have won the nominations against Wanjiru. This time around, the same tactics, especially academic qualifications, will be very effectively used against undesirable individuals at the party ballot. Party organisational capacity is the one thing that will effectively bungle the nominations and injure the parties the most. Jubilee inherently understands this incapacity, and aims at passing the burden to a reluctant IEBC. ODM, also a big party, is relying on its own incapacity to run the nominations, which will be its biggest undoing.
Even as an established party, ODM lacks the organisational capacity to run free and fair nominations. In many instances, it will be party networked elites who will establish the nominations management system — for themselves. Big name and connected candidates in ODM have been known to buy the entire process and its outcomes.
They choose their own presiding officers and clerks for nominations. Other candidates, mostly clueless about such arrangements, participate in nominations that are already decided. Allegations that ODM seats are usually for sale have never been effectively refuted. Party nominations in fact confirm this allegation.
The most infamous of the nomination shenanigans is the nepotism that becomes evident during primaries. Like many other human enterprises, politics is dynastic. Business families are business families. Sports families are sports families. Political families are also inevitably political, and a vast array of their members resort to politics. Opposition chief Raila Odinga and his family are the most notorious in their dynastic instincts.
Raila’s absolute domination of ODM tends to give his relations courage and advantage in ODM. Information available online indicates that not less than 10 of Raila’s relatives will participate in this election, from his children, brother and sister, near and distant cousins to an array of in-laws. Their capacity matters little where the perception is that these are just nepotism inclinations by the family members, whose biggest asset is the domination their patron has over the politics of his home and ODM’s weak institutional capacity to prevent such abuse.
The biggest payoff for any party will be the one that will, to the greatest extent possible, ensure there will be a One Member One Vote (OMOV) policy. The party membership structure and licence for participation in the nominations is the membership card. Jubilee has resorted to a digital card as its ticket. ODM and its affiliates will rely on the old Kanu era paper cards. There is already disquiet within the parties because the OMOV principle has been abrogated.
Candidates are buying membership cards by the tens of thousands, effectively giving themselves thousands of votes already. There is little party organisation to reach members directly and sell them the cards in a task they have exclusively left to aspirants. This means that it is an aspirant’s cash and organisational capacity that will determine victory at nominations. The candidate who will achieve the greatest conversion of each of his membership cards through surrogates in the false name of party members will win.
Nominations are critical for democracy and our parties are too weak to ensure they are credible. The cycle of bad leadership inevitably continues because the means of nominating these leaders is irredeemably corrupt through weak systems and established networks and interests.
The advantage is to the dominant, not the able. The IEBC should shake off its reluctance and provide parties with the institutional capacity to conduct nominations. If party primaries produce bad candidates, the general election will inevitably follow suit.
For Kenya to move to the next level in institutionalising its political development, the IEBC should undertake party nominations.
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