The Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) party is idyllically supposed to be a democratic movement. However, contrary to its naming, the party has continually remained deviant from democratic culture and has suffered failure in enforcing regulations for intra-party democracy. The party has been involved in a lot of political bad manners in the year that was. Being a major political party in the country and commanding a popularity of half of the electorate, the behavior and management of the party has negated the party’s image which has failed to meet the expectations of its supporters. ODM as the big brother in the political arena should embrace democratic ideals and principles which all the small political parties should emulate and look up to learn best practices on management and administration of a political party. Unfortunately, this is not the case.
The party has failed and/or totally refused to adopt and practice the principles of democracy that are enshrined in our Constitution. A Constitution that ODM was a front runner in advocating for its espousal and promulgation. The Constitution provides that democracy, participation of the people, good governance, transparency and accountability shall constitute the tenets of our national values and governance principles under Article 10 thereof. Further, the Constitution under Article 91 mandates all political parties to have a democratically elected governing body, promote democracy through free and fair elections and respect the rights of all persons to participate in the political process.
The ODM party has however flouted all these constitutional principles and requirements. In February 2014, the party was unable to hold democratic elections for its National Executive Council (NEC) Members. The event that was meant to be an election for the NEC ended as a chaotic affair characterized by aggression and violence. The investigation that followed to unravel the perpetrators of violence during this event was a charade intended to dupe supporters that the happenings of that day would be remedied. The party subsequently installed new party officials through a compromised process rather than a democratic process of universal suffrage.
The latest botched ODM nomination process in Homabay County further proves that the party has no capacity to manage a democratic free and fair election or nomination exercise. The party neither appreciates nor respects participation of the people as a key pillar in decision making and electing leaders of popular choice. By giving direct nomination to Moses Kajwang, the party does not respect the rights of the people to choose and that of the other candidates who expressed their intention to vie for the Homabay Senatorial seat through the ODM party ticket.
Even though direct nomination is recognized by the party’s constitution as one of the means to elect a candidate, the choice of candidate seemed to auger ill with the party supporters. Kajwang’s nomination has resulted in a flare up of violence across the county as the people demand an election and not a selection. ODM should have given priority to a free and fair nomination exercise where each candidate would get a fair chance to be nominated as a candidate for the seat.
ODM being a victim of a controversial and disputed voters register during the 2013 general elections should have known better to ensure a credible delegates list for its election and nomination exercises. A contentious and manipulated list of voters or delegates is a recipe for chaos and disaster in any democratic process.
Undoubtedly, ODM has weak intra-party democracy which if not strengthened will lead to its doom. Weak intra-party democracy means that the party denies party members the right of inclusion and consultation in decision making and deliberation within the party structure. Intra-party democracy is usually known to nurture citizens’/members’ political competencies and producing more capable representatives which in turn ensures that the party produces better policies and political programmes.
Political parties should practice what they preach. ODM preaches democracy and so it should practice democracy. Political parties are the expression of political pluralism; they contribute to the formation and expression of the will of the people and are a fundamental instrument for political participation. Their creation and the exercise of their activities are free in so far as they respect the Constitution and the law. Their internal structure and operation must be democratic.
ODM needs greater internal democracy in the election or selection of party leaders and nomination of candidates. The apparent intra-party conflict in ODM is the result of power struggles between leaders and failure to adhere to the principles of democracy, which in the end results to party split. The party needs more clearly defined governance structures, with clear horizontal and vertical linkages. These governance structures impact much of the party’s function, including how women and young people are represented within the party.
The following key interventions are requisite to ensure that ODM attains and enjoys a strong and sustainable intra-party democracy especially in the period preceding the 2017 general elections. First, the party should commission a comprehensive audit of its internal policies, procedures and structures. Second, it needs increased political parties knowledge and technical capacity on electoral processes. Third, it requires capacity and a strategy to effectively engage with their constituency/members. And finally, ODM needs to review and to adhere to its internal regulatory framework of electoral processes and to conduct free and fair elections/nomination exercises.
By Kennedy Kimani
Kennedy Kimani is the Political Parties Engagement Officer at the Institute for Education in Democracy.