In a democracy, political parties are not personalized, and limited to serving only the interests of the elite. Rather, they have structures, rules, procedures, norms and principles. They operate within specified legal frameworks that define their membership, composition, roles and functions, financial base, and operational rules and discipline.
The most recent act of political intolerance in political parties was the ‘plotted’ intimidation and violence against the Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) party Executive Director Magerer Langat by agitated Nairobi MCAs over the allegedly reproachful party leadership. This was not an isolated case of violence in the party. In February this year, ODM had aborted elections after the exercise was marred by chaos and violence at Kasarani Sports Centre in Nairobi. Observers and critics claimed that the violence was instigated by power-hungry individuals who are using the party as a vehicle to seek representation and political offices. A majority of political parties in Kenya have failed and/or refused to conduct party elections as most party owners are afraid of losing control of their parties.
The cases of violence and political intolerance are not new and unique to the ODM party. The United Democratic Front (UDF) party is currently experiencing party wrangles as its leader Musalia Mudavadi recently attempted to expel senators Boni Khalwale, Martha Wangari and nominated MP Hassan Osman from the party. The matter is being adjudicated by the Political Parties Disputes Tribunal following a petition filed by Hassan Osman. The United Republican Party (URP) has also suffered squabbles over supremacy and control of the party between William Ruto and Isaac Ruto. This wrangles are claimed to be affecting the Jubilee coalition which both the URP and The National Alliance (TNA) are members. TNA has further been affected by wrangles by Nyeri MCAs over who is the Assembly’s majority leader.
Surface analysis of these on-goings in Kenyan political parties suggests party ineffectiveness and little consolidation due to a myriad of factors, the main ones being ethnicity, personalization of institutions and excessive focus on power rather than policy engagement and service to the people. They are often overly manipulated to address short-term goals rather than inculcating enduring democratic culture.
Development and articulation of party ideology should be a key component of institutionalization of political parties. Currently, party leaders are not committed to party ideology. There is mistrust among party leaders, no seriousness about party ideologies, party principles are often disregarded when pursuing personal political interests as in the ODM, URP, TNA and UDF cases above. Consequently, parties have become ‘parties for politicians’ rather than ‘parties for politics’, whereby party ideology no longer matters.
Political parties should be role models of good governance and democracy in a society. Credibility and integrity of a political party determines the quality of leadership it provides. Thus, party electoral and institutional reforms are necessary if Kenya has to make strides toward a democratic state and society. Internal democracy, thus, has to address the endemic problem of lack of transparency in the nomination process, voter bribery, intimidation, vote buying and official interference with the results. All these could be, to a large extent, minimized if the implementation of the Political Parties Act is done in spirit and letter. The Act outlaws some of these malpractices and requires political parties to enhance democracy, even in utilizing the public funds provided for in the Act. The lack of or weak intraparty democracy affects the entire political system and what happens therein is often replicated in the larger system or becomes an input in subsequent democracy-related decisions at the national level.
Political parties should democratize their candidate selection processes by adhering to party regulations and electoral procedures, widening participation among the electorate and limiting central leadership interference. This would impact positively on overall perception and respect for free and fair electoral processes on the national scale, a key component of the development of a political culture.
Lastly, intraparty democracy is the backbone of democratic governance. In this regard, the Registrar of Political Parties and the Disputes Tribunal should implement the Political Parties Act zealously to ensure compliance with its requirements. The Tribunal should for instance in its current matter sanction the party at fault with heavy penalties for flouting democratic principles and practices and to act as deterrence measure. Ethnic mobilization has been outlawed by the Political Parties Act. Hate speech must be tamed if parties have to operate in a safe political environment and inter-ethnic conflicts stemmed.
The strengthening of democratic governance thus calls for a strong culture of democracy, in particular, robust, transparent and accountable political parties. This is because political parties represent a keystone of democratic governance. Whether inside or outside of government, political parties exist to transform aggregated social interests into public policy.
Author: Kennedy Kimani
*Kennedy Kimani is the Political Parties Engagement Officer at the Institute for Education in Democracy (IED).