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November 20, 2018

Tide of change could sweep away big politicians in August polls

A member of the French National Front (FN) political party pastes Marine Le Pen's poster on an official billboard near posters of Emmanuel Macron (C), and French Socialist party candidate Benoit Hamon (R) as part of the 2017 French presidential election campaign in Antibes, France, April 14, 2017. /REUTERS
A member of the French National Front (FN) political party pastes Marine Le Pen's poster on an official billboard near posters of Emmanuel Macron (C), and French Socialist party candidate Benoit Hamon (R) as part of the 2017 French presidential election campaign in Antibes, France, April 14, 2017. /REUTERS

Over the past one year, a wind of change has been sweeping across the global political landscape, and there are indications that the August 8 General Election are likely to be affected.

It all started in May last year, when voters in the Philippines elected Rodrigo Duterte. At 71 years, he became the oldest person ever to be elected President of the Philippines. His vocal support for extrajudicial killings of drug users and other criminals aided his political success.

In November 2016, Donald Trump was elected President, an outsider with virtually no political experience. Like Duterte, Trump was also one of the oldest persons ever to be elected US President at 70 years. Trump is also a controversial person, especially because of his unconventional views on women.

Most recently, French voters elected Emmanuel Marcon as their President. At 39, he is the youngest person ever to be elected President of France. Like Trump, Marcon had no previous political experience. But the interesting thing about him is that he started a completely new social movement that propelled him to a convincing election victory as an independent candidate. He beat the political heavyweights of French politics, who came to the contest enjoying the massive support and the grassroots networks of the far-left and far-right political parties.

It is, therefore, important to point out that the common thread between Duterte, Trump and Marcon is that apart from having controversies in their lives and not coming from the mainstream political class of their respective countries, they identified the main problems facing the majority of their respective electorate. and crafted a convincing message of how they would address those problems. In essence, Duterte, Trump and Marcon were propelled to power in their respective countries by a political message that spoke to the hearts and minds of their electorate. They electrified and energised their political base with a message that addressed the basic problems the people were facing.

The party primaries ahead of the August 8General Election have sent clear signals that the Kenyan electorate is slowly getting fed up with the established political elite, and could easily go the Philippines, the American and the French way by confronting the entrenched political system. In Kericho, a night guard (watchman) trounced established political names, including the incumbent, to clinch the Jubilee Party ticket for a local ward. The watchman campaigned door-to-door on foot, and did not even have the benefit of using campaign posters and merchandise —all he did was talk to the hearts of his grassroots constituents by identifying with their plight and prescribing practical solutions to their bread-and-butter problems.  In Nairobi, Senator Mike Sonko won the Jubilee Party ticket for the governor seat against 2013 presidential candidate Peter Kenneth because he identifies with the plight of the low-class Nairobians. As the populism of the likes of Sonko, takes sway, integrity issues that surround them are quickly forgotten or ignored.

If this trend continues, we are likely to see Kenya’s established political elite get swept aside as the people get attracted to a new crop of politicians who identify with their basic problems and those who offer practical and immediate solutions. In these tough economic times, where basic consumer goods such bread and sugar are too expensive for the majority of Kenyans to afford, a promise to build modern infrastructure such as the SGR and roads, or give laptops to elementary schoolchildren does not make any sense to voters.  In this regard, a crop of populist politicians is likely to spring from the shadows and promise Kenyans what they want to hear, and this crop will carry the day.

Going into the August polls, it is, therefore, important for the political elite to think seriously about the state of the economy, and address issues such as the rising cost of living that is worrying Kenyans most. It must not be forgotten that one of the issues that propelled Barack Obama to victory in the 2008 US elections and hurt the Republicans under John McCain was the fact that the economy was in recession because of the global economic meltdown. The Republicans seemed to be out of touch with the grave challenges the American people were facing.

The writing is on the wall and Kenya’s political elite should better be warned, lest they face the wrath of the electorate at the polls in August.

The writer is the deputy secretary general of the Supreme Council of Kenya Muslims (SUPKEM)

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