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August polls credibility starts at primaries

Independent Electoral and Boundaries commission (IEBC) Chairperson Wafula Chebukati at a recent event. FILE PHOTO | NMG
Independent Electoral and Boundaries commission (IEBC) Chairperson Wafula Chebukati at a recent event. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

Political parties are scheduled to hold their primaries from this week. This is a big milestone in the country’s electoral calendar. Despite the introduction of independent candidates as an avenue for contesting for an elective seats, political parties still remain the main route for securing elective offices. This position will obtain even more prominence in the elections scheduled for August.

Aspirants have been crisscrossing their electoral areas convincing the electorate of why they deserve to be considered as the ideal candidates for the positions they desire. Decision time starts this week.

Party primaries are critical because in many parts of this country they are like the General Elections. For that reason they elicit a lot of emotions and require careful execution.

In 2013, party primaries were chaotic and in certain instances even aborted. The implications for this was the elections proper were already polluted at this stage.

In 2017 we cannot afford a repeat. The amendments made to the law in 2016 sought to tighten some loose ends.

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First, they provide that only registered party members will participate in the process of choosing party candidates.

In the past, while members were supposed to participate they invariably did not. It was not easy to determine who was or was not a member of any party. Now the lists of party members are to be filed with the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC).

This will ensure that there is clarity on who is a member of a party. How these lists will be used on nomination day will be a closely watched affair.

Secondly, the need to ensure that the process of conducting the party primaries is based on clear rules has resulted in much more focus on how party lists submission is made.

Next is the process of listening to disputes arising from the party primaries. In 2013 the bulk of the disputes were handled by the IEBC dispute resolution committee. This year the Political Parties Dispute Tribunal (PPDT) is mandated by amendments to the Political Parties Act to deal with disputes arising from party primaries. This happened without any changes to IEBC’s dispute resolution mandate. The implication of this is possibility of forum shopping.

The signing of the memorandum of understanding between IEBC and PPDT will, hopefully provide practical clarity to candidates unhappy with the outcome of their party primaries.

Last week I attended a training by the office of the Registrar of Political Parties. The highlight revolved around the preparations the office is putting to ensure that it is, through its county monitors, able to follow the process of party primaries.

Security agencies also have a responsibility of ensuring that there is adequate security arrangement so that the process is conducted in a manner that does not interfere with peace and tranquility in the country.

This might require asking for and obtaining the schedule for all parties on when and where they intend to conduct their primaries and deploying adequate security presence to act as a deterrence for any persons’ intent on causing a breach of the peace.

We have committed ourselves to the ideals of multiparty democracy. This requires that we conduct our party processes in a mature and acceptable manner. The next month provides opportunity for us to build strong building blocks to ensure that the next General Elections are credible.

For aspirants, it is important that they get into the primaries with the understanding that they can either win or lose. This is what competition delivers.

Whichever way things go, though, they have to be willing to accept the results and embrace the process their parties go through. For this to happen, political parties will have to do a much better job in organising and delivering the party primaries.

The IEBC, as the agency constitutionally mandated to ensure that the nominations process is credible, it will be important to see how they engage in the process, without getting drawn into the internal processes of the parties.

Hopefully they will hold parties to the nomination rules and membership lists. It is a delicate balancing act, but one which must be done well.

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