Why the end of party-hopping is good for Kenyan politics

If the bill is signed into law by the President, a politician will only be able to vie for an elective seat on the party nomination or independent ticket submitted to the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commision not less than 90 or 60 days respectively prior to the polls.

This means the spectacular defections in immediate pre-election periods, which have been notorious for defining political outcomes, causing instability and saddling voters with already rejected candidates, will henceforth be political suicide for any candidate who attempts them.

The passing of the law was quite a dramatic change from the immediate previous period, when the same MPs vowed to strike down the bill, and condemned its proposers as having overstepped their mandate. But pass it they did, and now they have to work with it.

It might not seem like it, but this is big news. Kenya’s nascent democracy now has a chance at being meaningful. The last time politics in the country was driven by ideas was during the quest for multi-party democracy.

After the attainment of this goal in 1992, Kenyan politics became a game of personal interest, empty drama and entertainment, hero-worship and frequently deadly tribal jostling. Wherever there was a group of clowns with a grand plan to steal public funds, a political party could be formed.

And since they were no longer united by a common ideology other than that of theft, even their names became increasingly ridiculous and meaningless. Furthermore, the lack of ideology made any party game for anyone with a political ambition. Only personal differences could make someone leave a party.

This is the sad state of affairs that has continued to the present day.

In 2013, during a televised debate, Raila Odinga, then and now a presidential aspirant, defended the phenomenon of party hopping and the proliferation of political parties as the natural consequence of the advent of multiparty democracy in Kenya.

Over time, he argued, the number of parties would whittle down and become more and more defined by ideology. To support his argument he gave the example of Poland and the former Soviet-sphere countries which saw, on the fall of communism in Eastern Europe, an unprecedented explosion in the number of political parties.

However, Mr Odinga forgot to mention two things that could have significantly weakened his argument. One; Poland’s parties were driven by ideas from the beginning, and stabilised pretty quickly. And two; the definitive fall of communism in Europe happened around the same time that multiparty democracy restarted in Kenya.

Yet, here we are, almost a quarter-century later, and all my digits are insufficient to enumerate Kenya’s political parties (and more keep being formed). Poland, on the other hand, has a robust world class democracy with only 15 political countries, according to a simple Wikipedia search.

So, certainly a parallel can be drawn with Poland, but Kenya’s political malaise has gone too far. Our democracy is far from mature. Few of our politicians can even defend their positions with sound reason. Neither can most Kenyans.

This explains why it is so easy for politicians to jump between parties. This is why they see political parties solely as a means to get a political position, rather than as instruments for advancing deeply held beliefs. Our politics is largely devoid of cultured intellectuals. It is rather a circus of thugs and clowns with ever widening bellies.

And it pollutes all aspects of our national life. In fact, one of the stronger oppositions to the bill — by the National Gender and Equality Commission — falls into this same error.

The commission is rightly worried that the bill might get in the way of the achievement of the constitutional two-thirds gender rule. But according to the Daily Nation, to defend this position, the commission’s chairperson said that:

the law will prevent female aspirants who lose in nominations from shifting to other parties to contest for the seats (emphasis added).

But, be that as it may, the bill is a godsend to Kenya’s politics. It will not magically inject sanity into the public arena. But it will bring about a certain stability within which reason can thrive. Then the country can start hoping for more meaningful political exchanges.

Feature image: Daily Nation.

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