Nguyai Hit The Nail On Political Parties
Before the tragic deaths of Internal Security Minister, Prof George Saitoti and his Assistant Minister, Orwa Ojode, displaced all other news from our newspaper headlines, there was a nice little political tempest brewing. This was the angry reaction by leaders from Central Kenya, to a statement attributed to the MP for Kikuyu, Hon Lewis Nguyai.
At a public rally organized to whip up support for DPM Uhuru Kenyatta’s new political party, The National Alliance Party (TNA), Mr Nguyai was reported to have argued that those who sought to be either elected or reelected in Central Kenya, had no choice but to join this new party. The controversy raged over his closing remarks; something along the lines of “If it comes to it, we will vote in any dog that is willing to bark our tune, rather than someone from one of the other parties.”
It was an odd choice of words, coming from an MP who is usually very eloquent. No doubt he got carried away with the moment, as politicians will often do. But the truly significant thing is that what he said – however unfortunate his choice of metaphor – was the plain truth of party politics. A political party, in a properly functioning democracy, is not supposed to be a last-minute creation of an ambitious politician. When this is the way that politics is conducted,there is simply no time for the new party to sink roots; to organize itself into a coherent gathering of like-minded people; and to seek victory in an election through offering well-defined solutions to the nation’s problems.
And even this matter of internal party nominations is overrated here in Kenya. In the UK, for example, MPs are basically selected by an inner core of party branch officials. Some of these may then have to run in constituencies which have traditionally voted for a rival party, where they will almost certainly lose. Others will be offered “safe seats” which they are more or less guaranteed to win.
Read the biographies and autobiographies of any prominent British leader of the last few decades, and you will find the same thing: as MPs, they were expected to toe the party line, and vote almost blindly with their party, on the issues of the day. Only when they had risen to prominence, were they then able to help shape their party’s policies and to push for this reforms of one kind or another.
Which is not to say that there are no small parties in the advanced democracies; nor yet that no coalitions are formed between large parties and smaller ones. All these things happen. But they take place within a context wherein it is appreciated that political parties must have clear structures and operate on well-defined rules. And one of those rules is that parties function best, when they have large numbers of MPs enrolled within them, all of whom are devoted to the same broad goals. Which is precisely what Mr Nguyai was advocating, in his colourful language.
Kenyans are only now becoming acquainted with having functional, independent institutions. Not just in the judiciary which has perhaps shown the greatest and swiftest capacity for reform, but also in constitutionally-mandated commissions and other statutory bodies, which have shown a refreshing willingness to clash with the executive in the course of their work. They are very different from similar bodies of the single-party era, which were staffed almost entirely by political cronies of the powerful and time-serving bureaucrats in need of new employment. In such an organisation the idea of openly pposing the head of state in the course of your duties was unthinkable.
Well, just as other organs of state and public institutions have been reformed and empowered to function as they should, so too – in the fullness of time – must Kenya have political parties constructed along the lines of those which are dominant in North America and Western Europe. And in such nations, it is well understood that if you want to associate yourself with a certain presidential candidate, you do not do this by first forming your own small party.
You have no choice but to join his party and work your way up the ladder within it, all along obediently serving the party leaders of the day. To compare this kind of loyalty to a political leader to dogs barking in unison, may have been an unfortunate choice of metaphor on the part of Mr Nguyai. But that is actually how political parties do function in a democracy.