5 January 2013

Kenya: Why Parties Closed Stable Doors Before Horses Bolted

The kichinjio (slaughterhouse) season is upon the Kenyan electorate and the political class of all parties is determined to micro-manage every aspect of the party primaries.

It is said about Grand Opera, "It ain't over until the Fat Lady sings". Grand Opera's sopranos are almost invariably overweight. The Fat Lady of Kenyan General Election campaigns is the party primaries, or nominations process.

If you thought the Fat Lady sung with the extraordinary presidential nominations process that produced tickets like Uhuru Kenyatta paired with William Ruto and Raila Odinga with Kalonzo Musyoka, then you had only seen the preview.

The Fat Lady of the 11th General Election campaign in Kenya won't belt it out at the top of her lungs until midnight on January 18, the new deadline for all-party primaries. By that date, the political landscape would have shifted like a paradigm. It will still shift mightily, in some cases beyond recognition, but the political party decamping season in Kenya has been largely foreclosed by the Big Battalion alliances themselves. President Mwai Kibaki assented to the controversial Bill that that allows the political class an extra fortnight of party hopping - the Miscellaneous (Amendment) Bill 2012.

The Coalition for Reform and Democracy (CORD), which brings together Prime Minister Raila Odinga's Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) and Vice President Kalonzo Musyoka's Wiper Democratic Movement (WDM), among others, postponed its own nominations to January 17, the eve of the deadline, in a clear attempt to lock in its nominees and prevent a spate of mass defections.Thirdly, all other political formations postponed their primaries.

More Than 1,000 Elective Positions:

The alliance leaderships bolted the stable doors before the defection horses bolted with good reason. The March 4 event is Kenya's biggest-ever General Election. The electorate will usher in a new President, 47 governors, 47 senators, 347 MPs, 47 women's representatives, 15 county representatives per county, 2 youth representatives and 2 persons with disabilities representatives per county. All these candidates will need party nominations and a great many prospective candidates will not secure them from their party of first choice.

The Party Leader and his or her innermost circle in all parties are now faced with the greatest number of candidates to certify by nomination - a total of more than 1,100 for 8 categories of position - of any one event in Kenyan electioneering history. The Voter's Roll compiled in a one-month period in November-December 2012 has 14 million-plus voters and is easily the most reliable such tally since the Independence General Election of May 1963. As the Chairman of the Political Parties Disputes Tribunal, Peter Simani, told journalist Kwendo Opanga on the KBC TV political talk-show Crystal Ball, Kenyans are fond of referring to nominations as Kichinjio (slaughterhouse).

The primaries are the most disputatious stages of Kenya's electoral cycle, generating more disputes by far than the final General Election results. Simani also pointed out that party leaders and officials must make themselves thoroughly acquainted with their own nominations rules - which are now deposited with the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) - and not merely leave the details to the lawyers.

All registered political parties, 54 in total, beat the October 17, 2012, deadline to submit their nomination rules to the IEBC. The Registrar of Political Parties, Mrs Lucy Ndung'u, confirmed to the media that all the parties had indeed beaten the deadline prescribed by the Elections Act for submitting the rules. But this apparent love of rules is not necessarily support for democratic practice or real competition based on merit.

Earlier this week, Attorney General Githu Muigai confirmed that President Kibaki had assented to the Miscellaneous (Amendment) Bill 2012. And although the Presidential Press Service was rather coy in announcing the presidential assent, completely omitting to mention the Bill by name in its press release, the AG confirmed that the nod averted a constitutional crisis whereby, come January 4 (the previous deadline), and a majority of MPs had defected to parties other than the ones that sponsored them to the House, Parliament would not have been constitutionally constituted.

The President has opened the floodgates for a veritable season of party-hopping like none other in Kenyan history. But the parties have taken the precaution of postponing their primaries and leaving as narrow a window of defection as they can.

Already, throughout the political sector, it is common, but little-discussed, knowledge that tiny outfits like Raphael Tuju's Party of Action (PoA), Peter Kenneth's Kenya National Congress (KNC), Martha Karua's National Rainbow Coalition (Narc) and Kiraitu Muriungi's Alliance Party of Kenya (APK) are suddenly finding suitors who happen to be very big names in parties like ODM and Wiper, for instance, but who have sensed they are not about to get those tickets. And some of these political romancers are coming laden with gifts, particularly cash.

Tuju's and Kenneth's phones have been, to use a pre-mobile image, ringing off the hook. To Tuju's own surprise, PoA's most feverish suitors are from Luo Nyanza itself and - wait for it - places like Nyandarua and the extended Mt. Kenya region.

Party nominations in Kenya are a bruising process, with the top leadership in every political formation apparently hell-bent on hoodwinking the membership in the style of Kanu when it was the only legal party in the land. There is nothing straightforward about party nominations in Kenya. The Party Leader and his kitchen cabinet often demand nothing less than direct nominations for themselves, their relatives, including, where politically active, spouses, friends and associates or mount nomination by acclamation and so-called consensus jamborees serving the same end. And there are few political grievances that genuinely make ordinary Kenyans see red than this tendency to carve up the party among the Party Leader's inner core.

Thus, a Party Leader may command as fanatical a following as Prime Minister Raila Odinga and Deputy Prime Minister Uhuru Kenyatta do in their respective political backyards, but the minute the followers sense that the bigwigs are out to impose candidates on them, all bets are off. This is why Oburu Odinga and ODM stalwarts James Orengo and Jakoyo Midiwo found themselves booed for the first time in Siaya earlier this week, and the jeering had the very special quality of total rejection and terminal disagreement. It had the unspoken but unmistakable formulation of "We know that you know that we know..."

The Direct Nominations Problem:

The Luo Nyanza electorate is deeply suspicious of the intentions of the PM's courtiers. Oburu, Raila's older brother, wants a direct nomination for Governor of Siaya. The electorate, and not only in Luo Nyanza, can see a nominations sleight-of-hand manoeuvre from several kilometers away, as if by remote sensing, however much it is dressed up as Bwana Kubwa's (the Big Man's) "wishes" and "winning team".

In fact, many politicos will have to undergo such personal re-branding and to march under such heterodox colours - for instance the ODM-damu worthies who barely a fortnight ago would not have deigned to give Tuju the time of day but who are now putting him in mind of throwing away his phone - as to be barely recognizable.

The Kenyan political class, both pre- and post-multipartyism, never saw a nominations process it did not wish to rig. It is almost as if the 14-million-strong electorate cannot be trusted to do "the right thing".

The politics of patronage, privilege, preferment and cronyism are alive and well in Kenya in the 50th year of Independence, and they continue to distort and undermine the democratic process. And these politics are transitioning directly into the epoch of devolved governance under the new Constitution. The County Assembly maybe a spanking new institution in Kenya, headed by a Governor, the first regional CEO in our governance systems, but it will have some of the worst traits of the era when Parliament was the only legislative chamber under the politics of presidentialism.

Intra-alliance, the other nominations headache involves the prospect of close allies facing off and causing potentially irreparable division. In micro-managing the primaries, the Party Leader and his handlers are walking both a tight rope and a knife edge. If they behave too much like old Kanu, having closed the barn door on the eve of the deadline, they will risk a grassroots backlash at the polls themselves. The device of locking the horses in could result in an enormous build-up of resentment that sees close allies and supporters vote with their feet at the worst possible juncture, the main event itself, the General Election.

When ODM National Organising Secretary and Cabinet minister Hassan Joho, who is also the Kisauni MP, early this week declared that the party has no plans to dish out direct nominations on January 10 (when the primaries had been scheduled before they were postponed), not many people were paying him any serious attention. Joho was responding to the claims of one Caleb Ng'wena, a prospective candidate for the Kisauni seat on the ODM-Coalition for Reform and Democracy (CORD) ticket. Ng'wena put an interesting spin on the issue by demanding that the CORD nominations be presided over by the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) if they were to be seen to be free and fair.

Ng'wena declared: "ODM is saying that it will conduct free and fair nominations but we doubt their commitment to do this. Only IEBC can guarantee such."

And then Ng'wena mentioned the figures of 150 ODM aspirants and 500 party members who are "prepared to leave the party" if the nominations are not free and fair. Joho promptly dismissed Ng'wena's claims as "propaganda" and challenged his figures, saying the party has only 360 delegates and 80 aspirants in Mombasa. The nominations waltz has well and truly started for ODM Coast, complete with disputes over delegate numbers.

Away from the siblings and other hangers-on, there are candidates with unquestionably big potential who also make a point of insisting on direct nominations, on pain of taking a walk to a rival party and obtaining the same there. Starehe MP, Assistant Minister and evangelical Margaret Wanjiru is one such candidate in Nairobi, where she is gunning for Governor of the capital city, and has made it clear that she wants a direct nomination. Wanjiru's adamancy is causing deep concern in camps such as former Mumias Sugar Company CEO Evans Kidero's and former Nairobi Town Clerk Philip Kisia's, both of whom want the same ticket and would no doubt not mind direct nomination.

Mayor George Aladwa caused quite a stir when he let it be known that the PM was quietly trying to talk Kidero into stepping aside for Wanjiru, who issued a swift denial, choosing her words much more carefully than Joho at the Coast, by saying, matter-of-factly, "Such talks can only be initiated by our party's Elections Board or the top leadership, not candidates". Watch that space . . .

The New Ford Kenya Leader, Justice Minister Eugene Wamalwa, was also compelled to deny that his organization had issued direct-nomination certificates. Speaking in Kitale during the swearing-in of the party's Election Board officials on Monday, Wamalwa said: "Those claiming to have certificates are cheating".

The reality of Kenyan nominations politics is complex. Did those who claim to have certificates forge the documents? Or did they obtain the worthless documents from officials of the party, whom they know are officials of the party who actually sit in the front row on the VIP dais during official functions, who took their money, knowing full well it was a scam?

Meanwhile, the King of the "Boardroom Done-Deal" and the "Consensus Method" himself, Deputy Prime Minister Musalia Mudavadi of the United Democratic Forum (UDF), is busy recommending anything but a vote in Kakamega County, where Housing Minister Soita Shitanda and former Provincial Commissioner Paul Olando both want the UDF ticket for Governor.

Across the political aisle in The National Alliance, inside the Jubilee Alliance, one-time Nairobi Town Clerk John Gakuo is comporting himself as if he were already the TNA nominee for Governor of Nairobi, as is banker Jimnah Mbaru, complete with the earliest candidate billboard campaigns of the 11th General Election.

Nominations become even more complex inside the larger alliances between electoral bedmates that have never played together before. Eldoret North William Ruto's United Republican Party (URP) is looking to lock up as much of the Rift Valley as possible, where one-time ruling party Kanu believes it can still make inroads and an area that ODM swept at the 2007 General Election. However, in some parts of the region like Nakuru, URP and TNA will need to nominate smart or end up acting at cross-purposes and stepping on each other's toes.

Elsewhere in Rift Valley, at midweek, Marakwet East MP Jebii Kilimo accused URP of "stealing members from TNA", saying all her officials had been illegally and without their knowledge registered as URP. Even more amazingly, Kilimo said that there is only one properly registered TNA member in her constituency. URP Secretary General Aden Duale promptly contradicted Kilimo and sought to remind her that, contrary to her categorical assertion that she had never been a part of URP, she had in fact been a founder-member. Duale was also adamant that Marakwet East is a URP-compliant region, whatever such attempted zoning, a throwback to the worst of the Kanu era, might mean.

Search for Political Vehicles:

There will be massive shifts of loyalty in the search for political vehicles, particularly by those on the rebound from what looked like a sure bet but was converted into missing the boat by the Party Leader and his/her handlers' power-brokering shenanigans. Even the working hours' period of January 18, D-Day itself, are enough time for plenty of horses to still bolt by crashing through locked barn doors.

The next Cabinet will provide the next President with even fewer avenues for political patronage - it will be made up not of politicos but of technocrats whose nomination will depend on parliamentary vetting. Much of the political patronage will have to be crammed into the party nominations process long before this first Council of Ministers under the new Constitution is appointed.

In Central Kenya, where the largest ethnic vote bloc is changing hands for the first time since the 1997 General Election, when Kenneth Matiba stepped aside and Daniel arap Moi stood as President for the last time, TNA has grown by leaps and bounds. In barely eight months, Uhuru's party has stamped its imprimatur on a region that votes massively and cohesively. The scramble for the TNA/Jubilee Coalition ticket has been a wonder to behold and has signaled two things - the Mt Kenya region will vote en bloc as usual, and they will do so for Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto despite and in spite of the fact that they have cases awaiting them at the International Criminal Court at The Hague.

When it is euphoria voting season in the Mountain, the fate of those who break from the mainstream is well-known. When operatives like Charles Rubia and Kimani wa Nyoike tried to swim against the Matiba tide at the 1992 General Election, they drowned, never to surface again. On the lower frequencies in Central, this is a fate that is widely thought to await many who do not play ball.

However, TNA, like all other parties, faces the prospect of running unpopular candidates in areas where the party is overwhelmingly popular - and reaping the consequences. That is the greatest nominations fear of them all, the true "Kichinjio" factor, because its consequences and real fallout take place on Election Day proper.

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