Monday, May 08, 2017

Undemocratic parties

"We need an electoral law to govern political parties primaries for free, fair and credible nominations." As quoted by @Faith Kasiva on Twitter
The political topic du jour is party primaries renamed so in our affected desire to be as American as possible. The shambles that were the primaries by the the Jubilee Party of Kenya are not the result of bad laws but the determined desire by the members of the party to sow as much confusion as possible during the exercise. Confusion leads to decisions that are not mediated by anyone or any institution to impose decisions on the party rank and file that they may resist. Confusion is a feature of all parties' primaries, whether they are members of the National Super Alliance or small, run of the mill parties like Narc-Kenya or Maendeleo Chap Chap Party.

The national discourse has tangentially dealt with the question of independent candidacies but it hasn't asked what I believe is the most important question: why is our politics organised around political parties and not independent candidates? The undemocratic exercise of power by politicians is tied directly to the undemocratic operation of political parties which signal to political and state institutions that undemocratic methods will not face political, constitutional or statutory challenge.

From the recruitment of -- and accounting for -- party members, the most undemocratic methods are employed, especially secrecy. The secrets of the political party reinforce every undemocratic act -- including bribery, forgery, violence and intimidation -- by party owners, officials and aspiring candidates. It is how a political party can have multiple party registers for the same constituency -- and all of them would be accurate depending on who the maker of the register was.

But do we really need to be politically organised around political parties? I have gone over news reports and articles over the past five years and come to an unsurprising realisation: political parties remain dormant for the period between elections. Little party activity takes place. No political party seems to invest in training and educating party officials or drafting party policy papers stating the party's position on public policy. Parties don't hold national delegate's conventions or congresses to reaffirm their ideologies or reconfirm their leaders to their position. Most important -- and damning to my mind -- no party seems to have a committed membership that subscribes to the party's ideals and proves its loyalty by giving material support -- money -- to the party for its activities. Parties' membership registers are about as real as chicken teeth.

I am -- we should all be -- suspicious of politicians when they exhort us to write better laws to better regulate political parties because political parties are, by very Kenyan standards, not designed to be well-regulated. When those politicians making these calls are elected representatives who have experienced the bracingly cold winds of change as represented by poor primary outcomes, my suspicion is tinged with paranoia because when these representatives were writing laws from regulating breast milk to regulating what photographs the newsmedia may publish, I am just curious as to why they never found the time to deal with political parties' primaries especially after they regulated every other aspect of the political and electoral process.

Few Kenyans have ever seen the constitutions of the parties that front thousands of men and women in our elections. Few Kenyans actually care enough to go looking for these constitutions. So it shouldn't be so difficult for most Kenyan voters to elect their representatives regardless of party affiliation, party membership or party loyalty, right? It doesn't make sense for Mr Odinga, for example, to command such blind loyalty when his own party is notorious for shambolic, violent, chaotic nominations. Or Uhuru Kenyatta, when his newest party -- his third in five years -- wears the veneer of corporate poshness but is in reality a dictatorship of fat wallets, deep pockets and political engineers of doubtful and dubious repute.

We don't really need political parties. We just need a less expensive, less chaotic way of choosing who will stand at an election. Political parties have proven to be the reason why our politics almost always ends in violence.

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