14 January 2013

Kenya: Who Is an Independent Candidate?


Nairobi — The world's greatest democracy, as the United States of America (USA) refers to itself, has had a law allowing persons not affiliated to any political party to vie for elective posts for over 200 years.

Kenya only recently followed this precedent with the promulgation of its current constitution in 2010 following in the footsteps of other African nations such as Ethiopia and Madagascar. The provision was there before but was scrapped with the introduction of a one-party state in 1982.

"In the past we have had an elective legal regime that was quite rigid; one had to go through a party to become a contestant for any elective position," Executive Director Institute for Education in Democracy (IED) Peter Alingo explains.

Alingo describes Article 85 in the constitution which reads, "Any person is eligible to stand as an independent candidate," provided they meet certain criterion, as a milestone:

"Because the rationale behind this is to create democratic space."

One of the criteria independent candidates have to meet in order to vie for elective office is not to have been a member of any political party for at least 90 days prior to the election date. A requirement Alingo says is to curb the emergence of what he calls 'opportunistic independent candidates'.

"At the initial stages there are individuals who put themselves out there to be elected on a political party platform but come party primaries or nominations they do not succeed whether fairly or unfairly and at the end of the day insist that their names must appear on the ballot paper."

Alingo is of the opinion that allowing independent candidates not only reaffirms Kenya's claim to be a democratic nation but could help alleviate the tension and violence often witnessed during party primaries.

"In the early days when KANU [Kenya Africa National Union] was the only political party you had to win the nomination to be elected creating a very tense environment that generated a lot of anxiety and was therefore fertile ground for conflict and violence."

Multi-party democracy, Alingo is quick to add, did not resolve the problem but only increased it in scale, "We began to see the emergence of dominant political parties. If you were vying for an elective position in an area where a particular party dominates, once you were nominated by that party, you were as good as elected."

"So therefore, nominations became a matter of do or die and that is how we started to see a lot of disputes and violence in party primaries which eventually then is transported into the real elections."

The desperate need to win party nominations to have any chance at clinching an elective post created a situation which gives credence to the Darwinian Theory that only those who adapt best to their environment survive.

"You had to be in good books with the party and this meant one of three things: you had to be very close to those who owned the party, bank roll the party or be a party mafia in the sense that you were able to crook your way through the party machinery to get nominated."

Money equaling power in political parties is one reason Alingo gives for the disenfranchisement of women and youth in the political arena hence creating the need for the inclusion of women and youth county representatives in the constitution.

"A number of times, people get elected through the party ticket because they have the resources to support the political party and also support their own campaigns. This has more or less excluded certain categories of the society. Particularly women and the youth who are less endowed."

The provision for independent candidates in Kenya's constitution, Alingo says, is an idea that is long overdue, "In 1997, the Hon. Harun Mwau, who for some reason did not want to identify with the dominant political thinking that was championed by the dominant political parties in this country proceeded to form his own political party which he named the party of independent candidates: PICK."

"The idea here was to create a platform for people who think outside the political party box to be able to canvas for votes and do politicking in this country. But since the law did not allow individual independent candidates to come through, a party had to be formed."

Agnes Awuor is one of those who does not subscribe to the ideologies of any of the registered political parties and so she has decided to vie for the Siaya senate seat as an independent candidate.

"I didn't like party politics. What do I mean by party politics? They might be having some things in their manifestos that I don't agree with."

The process of securing a political party nomination, Awuor says, is a headache she would rather do without.

"I didn't want to go into the political wrangles that you've seen happening in Siaya and some people feeling that they own the party and some people feeling they can be given a free ticket during the nomination. I didn't want those headaches."

Even without the backing of the dominant political party in Siaya, Awuor is adamant her decision to run independently has not in any way hampered her chances of being elected, "My people are not even asking me what party I belong to."

What would have hampered her chances, Awuor says, is if she had affiliated herself with the less popular parties in her county, "I prefer to hit my head on the wall but remain with an idea whose time has come. For many aspirants who think they can't make it through the party and have something to offer the people, I advise them this is the way to go."

"Because it's a liberal way; you're not fighting with anybody. But if I joined Wiper or URP, people would not be speaking of a person, they would be speaking of a party."

Independent candidates were required to submit their symbols for verification to the registrar of political parties by January 8, "I've already submitted my symbol which is an eagle. The eagle is divine, the eagle is resourceful and this woman is resourceful."

Article 99 of the constitution stipulates that anyone vying for a senate seat as an independent candidate must also be supported by at least 2,000 registered voters in the county. Those vying for the National Assembly require 1,000 and those looking to join the County Assembly require the backing of at least 500 registered voters as per Article 193.

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