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Independent candidates facing giant hurdles

Saturday, January 12, 2013 - 00:00 -- BY WALTER MENYA

Less than two months to the March polls, independent candidates are facing serious challenges marketing their bids against well-endowed political party candidates.

They are also crying foul over the manner the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission has been treating them, claiming that the Issack Hassan-led electoral body has disregarded them most of the time, preferring to deal with political parties.

Richard Nyakwaka who is seeking the Nairobi senator seat as an independent candidate blamed the IEBC and the Registrar of Political Parties for being a stumbling block to their ambitions. The Commission, he said, frustrates the candidates by withholding information from them.

“The IEBC unfortunately has been a big disappointment. The commission is not giving us support and it keeps changing the rules day in day out, perhaps just to frustrate us,” said Nyakwaka.
For instance, whenever MPs amend the electoral laws, IEBC only informs political parties of the changes.

The Registrar of Political Parties Lucy Ndung’u, while speaking at the launch of an election monitoring project by the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights (KNCHR) did not mention anything about Independent candidates, thus giving credence to their grievances.
“The IEBC will circulate the new requirements brought about by the recent amendments to the Political Parties and Elections Acts for aspirants to political parties,” Ndung’u told party representatives during the forum at KICC on Monday.

The President of the East African Law Society Aggrey Mwamu said the Independents have been a forgotten lot. According to Mwamu, even in more advanced democracies like the US, just a handful of the Independents get elected because of the odds stacked against them.

Mwamu noted that the biggest challenge the independent candidates have is that the population is still not aware that one can run for a political office without being in a party.

“Our politics is still more ethnic-based with nothing ideological about them. So voters will be wondering how they can vote for someone who is not in the tribal team called political party. May be we should give ourselves some ten years or so then people can start embracing the idea,” said Mwamu.

The IEBC officials told The Star they have received more than 50 applications from independent candidates for various elective positions. The elections regulations require that they meet all the conditions as the political party candidates which include paying same nomination fees and the academic requirements.

On top of that, the independent candidates must submit a clearance certificate from the Registrar of Political Parties certifying that the person was not a member of any political party for the last three months before the elections; that is as at December 4, 2012.

They must also submit to IEBC a duly filled Form of Intention to Contest and a unique symbol the candidate intends to use during the election.

All Independent candidates must also establish and maintain a functioning office in the area where they are contesting. It must be available for inspection by the commission at least 45 days before the elections.

“The address, including the physical address of the office must be communicated to the commission,” IEBC said in a recent notice.
All these requirements have placed immense burden on the independent candidates. Unlike their political party rivals who will ride on their parties for support, including logistical and financial support, the independents have to do it all by themselves.

Some like Job Momanyi who is seeking the Nyamira county governor seat and had previously contemplated running as an independent dropped the idea and joined the Omingo Magara-led People’s Democratic Party, which supports the CORD Coalition, because of the stringent requirements.
Momanyi argued that the requirement for offices is only ideal for presidential and governorship aspirants who are fairly well-endowed financially.

“Where does someone seeking a country representative position get the money to establish and maintain an office? In most cases, such people campaign from their homes,” he said.
The taxpayer has also been financing political parties through the exchequer which in a way lessens their financial burden.

The fact that they don’t benefit from resources that their party opponents have also disadvantages them, explained Mwamu.
Momanyi also found it difficult selling his bid because of voter perception and the ethnicisation of politics that Mwamu referred to.

“In the Kenyan context, voters perceive you as a lone ranger and a weakling who is looking for shortcuts to be on the ballot but voters need to understand that in democracies, a person decides to be an Independent because he does not subscribe to the ideals of the existing parties,” said Momanyi.

Similar sentiments were expressed by Malik Obama, the half-brother of US President Barack Obama who is vying for the Siaya governor seat. Malik said the major challenges his bid is facing is first, lack of sufficient resources and the fact that the concept is still new and majority of voters still do not understand it. But Malik disagrees with his fellow independents, defending the manner IEBC has dealt with them as well as the legal provisions and requirements, which he said are quite clear.

“It is much easier to engage with IEBC and as independent candidates would tell you, our overriding motive is to be of service to men and women of Kenya,” said Malik.
But Isaac Oburu, a Kolwa county ward representative disagrees, faulting the IEBC for failing to explain to the voter that one can seek an office without a party and thus making the task of an Independent candidate even more burdensome.

Momanyi also said the issue of resources is a major discouragement to independent candidates.
“As an Independent, you have to foot all the bills from your own pocket. There is no pooling of resources like within parties,” he said.

Nyakwaka, a retired Kenya rugby player said he has been relying on family, friends and well-wishers. “I have to fundraise on my own so as to sustain my campaign. The IEBC and the law have relegated Independent candidates to the fifth division of the league. While the constitution says we are all equal before the law this is not true for independent candidates. The law discriminates against us,” he said.
But Nzamba Kitonga, who chaired the Committee of Experts on the constitution disagreed that the law favours political parties candidates over their independent colleagues. Kitonga, who is seeking the Kitui governor seat on the National Labour Party ticket says that is an individual choice.

“They cannot claim to be facing hurdles. May be on resources but one has to remember that the issue is not any different for us since parties are not funding their candidates,” Kitonga said.

He also explained that the requirement that one has to be a member of a political party three months to an election was meant to avoid situations where people who have fallen out with their party hierarchy leave to vie as Independents yet their ideologies are based around the previous parties.

However, most independent candidates are not regretting shunning the political parties which they said were deliberately complicating nomination procedures to lock out certain aspirants.
Felix Okatch, a Kisumu governor aspirant said that as an independent candidate, he has avoided the political parties’ nominations which are likely to be characterised by massive rigging, intimidation and favouritism.
“My experience with political parties is that they lack internal democracy and they favour only the rich. Most of the established political parties already have their preferred nominees whom they intend to impose on the voters,” said Okatch.

By avoiding the intricacies of nomination through a political party, Nyakwaka also believes that an independent candidate is able to engage with the voters directly.

Qualifications and Requirements for Independent Candidates
For one to be cleared to run as an Independent candidate, he or she must meet the following qualifications and requirements according to IEBC:
• Must be a Kenyan citizen by birth.
• Must not hold dual citizenship.
• Is qualified to stand for election as a Member of Parliament.
• Must be a registered voter.
• Is a holder of a degree from a University recognised in Kenya.
• The candidate must submit certified copies of educational qualification certificates (University Degree for presidential and Governor aspirants and or a Diploma certificate or other post-secondary qualification acquired after a period of three months recognised by the relevant Ministry for the senate, MP, Women representatives and county representatives)
• A copy of a national identity card or valid passport
• A passport size photograph
• A duly signed code of conduct
• A duly filled Commission Nomination Form, including an original Statutory Declaration Form for purposes of nomination and an original Self-Declaration Form.
• A soft and a hard copy of a list of at least stated number of supporters submitted to the Commission at least by January 24.
While the above requirements apply to all candidates, Independent Candidates will also have to submit a clearance certificate from the Registrar of Political Parties certifying that the person was not a member of any political party for the last three months before the elections; that is, as at December 4, 2012; a duly filled Form of Intention to Contest in the prescribed form; a symbol the candidate intends to use during the election, which has been approved by the Commission by January 8, 2013. They also must establish and maintain a functioning office in the respective electoral area where the candidate is contesting

Independent candidates in other parts of the World

The concept has not been very popular. In the current 100-member US Senate for instance, there are only two Independents, namely Angus King and Bernie Sanders.
The 435-member House of Representatives has 200 Democrats and 233 Republicans and the remaining two are vacant.
In the 1992 US presidential elections, Ross Perot, mounted one of the forceful campaigns as an independent but only secured 18.9 per cent of the popular vote but no Electoral College votes in an election that the Democratic candidate Bill Clinton defeated the incumbent George H.W. Bush, a Republican. Another well-known independent candidate in the US presidential elections has been Ralph Nader.
The Australian House of Representatives has five independents out of 150 members and one in the Senate out of 76 members.
President of Germany, Joachim Gauck who was elected in 2012 is the most well-known Independent politician in the world and the first for Germany.
Britain’s House of Commons has one independent MP, Sylvia Hermon who was elected in 2010 to represent North Down constituency.