The defection of ODM aspirants in the Homa Bay Senate race last month after Mr Moses Kajwang’ was awarded a direct nomination demonstrates that little has changed in the management of political parties despite a raft of new laws.
Political players say parties are yet to shed the “owned by” tag, adding that one should not be able to hop from one outfit to another without consequences. This has also raised questions about internal democracy in parties and the health of multiparty politics two decades after its reintroduction.
After the acrimonious nomination fallout in ODM, Mr Silas Jakakimba joined United Democratic Movement (UDM), Mr Philip Okundi settled for Maendeleo Party of Kenya while Mr Fred Rabongo moved to the National Agenda Party. Just three weeks ago, they were all members of the Orange party.
The law, after it was “mutilated”, allows aspirants to switch parties even with 24 hours to nomination. The 10th Parliament changed the election laws, making nonsense of the original intention that was to enforce discipline and prevent party hopping ahead of elections.
Party hopping is not unique to ODM; almost all major parties have experienced it. Critics say the main reason is that parties are run like private members’ clubs, with only a clique of members being nominated.
Major parties like ODM, The National Alliance (TNA), United Republican Party (URP), Wiper and United Democratic Party (UDF) all have strong personalities around which the membership revolves. The history of Kenya’s politics is such that whenever such people exit the scene, the parties “die” or lose clout.
UDM is a classic example. Had Mr William Ruto succeeded in his takeover bid of the party in the run-up to the 2013 election, it would today be what URP is in Rift Valley and areas like Northern Kenya, where the deputy president has immense support. But because it is not led by a popular political figure, there is not much to write about UDM today.
ODM is almost synonymous with its leader Raila Odinga, just as TNA is with President Uhuru Kenyatta and URP with Mr Ruto. The script is the same in former Vice-President Kalonzo Musyoka’s Wiper, and UDF whose party leader is former Deputy Prime Minister Musalia Mudavadi.
Because of this, individuals always scramble for key positions so as to influence decisions that further their political careers.
In Nyeri, for instance, Kieni MP Kanini Kega called for a retreat to iron out differences between TNA branch officials who are embroiled in a leadership contest.
Last year, his colleague, Moses Sakuda, and others tried to replace the current national officials, but failed. “The current officials were appointed and not elected … We want members to be given a chance to elect new officials,” Mr Sakuda said.
Other than ODM, which unsuccessfully attempted to hold elections to pick new officials last February, none of the parties has carried out polls.
Elgeyo Marakwet Senator Kipchumba Murkomen (URP) told the Sunday Nation that the only way to ensure members don’t switch loyalty after picking candidates was through inculcating internal democracy.
“So long as you are within the timeline, you are allowed to jump ship. But unless political parties are run democratically, you will see citizens moving to other places where this is guaranteed. There is a sense of disenfranchisement whenever leaders are imposed on people,” he said.
URP secretary-general Fred Muteti acknowledges that other than making it hard for members to jump ship, there is a need to change the law to make the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission assist parties that have no capacity to conduct nominations.
“The first thing is to ensure members have a say in the running of party matters, but there is a need to change certain clauses of the political parties law so that shuttling from one party to another does not happen,” he said.
Mr Omweri Angima, the programmes officer for political parties at the Centre for Multiparty Democracy, says Kenya has a long way to go before political parties operate as institutions.
“The National Assembly negated the law for the expediency of its members, making it hard to instill party discipline. You see elected leaders having very little to do with their sponsoring parties yet there is very little the leadership can do.”
Prof Winnie Mitullah, the director of the Institute for Development Studies at the University of Nairobi, says the current arrangement where two alliances dominate the political scene is not good for democracy.