President Uhuru Kenyatta has nominated Anne Nderitu as the Registrar of Political Parties and sent her name to the National Assembly for approval. This development is significant. Initially the Registrar was designated as part of the electoral commission. With the enactment of the 2010 Constitution and the 2011 Political Parties Act it was operationalised as an independent office.
But the process of appointing a substantive Registrar of Political Parties continued to be dogged with controversy until the first holder of the office, Lucy Ndungu, moved on to another position. There was always debate as to whether Ms Ndungu was acting or substantive.
Ms Nderitu’s nomination marks the first time that the provisions envisaged in the Act for appointing a Registrar is being fully applied. Hopefully, the nomination of the assistant registrars as required by the Act and whose positions had also been advertised will also be filled.
I know Ms Nderitu personally from her days as a staff at the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) and as acting Registrar of Political Parties. Should the National Assembly confirm her to the position, she will bring into the office knowledge of political parties not just from her work with them as the acting Registrar, but also from her former position at the IEBC. Political parties are a special category of institutions. Knowing their internal workings and unique nature is an important asset. Secondly, she has strong background in capacity building from her training as a teacher and from her work in stakeholder engagement and training at IEBC. This should serve her and the institution well.
There is, however, a lot of hard work to be done regarding political parties. The last two weeks have seen a rise in political rhetoric that potentially can move to hate speech. While that is the purview of the National Cohesion and Integration Commission, the fact that the utterances are ascribed to politicians speaks to the lack of maturity in our politics. Whatever the Registrar will do is her headache. What is not contestable is that she must design mechanisms of supporting a process of strengthening the quality of politics in the country. This is a precondition for developing a strong democratic culture and nation.
Secondly, the country requires strong and democratic political parties. While a lot of work has been done in institutionalising parties in the country, the balance between quality and quantity is still skewed towards the latter. We have very many political parties, I think more than the country needs, but too few that are strong and democratic institutions of governance. Many of these parties remain dormant for four years and come to life the year of election with calls for aspiring candidates to apply and then issue nomination certificates. Political parties must be more than just machines for clearing candidates to run for office. The Constitution requires them to also shape the nature of governance, which is not possible when they are dormant.
Political party nominations have continued to be a thorny issue in the quest to democratise them. In all elections, violence, disputes and intrigues mark the process of choosing candidates. It is more vicious in the bigger parties and in the regions presumed to be their strongholds since in those instances securing a nomination certificate is equivalent to being elected.
The work that has been ongoing under the office of the Registrar of Political Parties of addressing the nomination process is not only important but is urgent. It is necessary that it be brought to conclusion this year so that it can provide some reforms to how parties conduct their primaries and the role of public institutions in regulating this process.
The relationship between the office of the Registrar of Political Parties and the IEBC should also be improved. While the two play mutually reinforcing roles in the electoral process, they have not pulled in the same direction in the past. The registrar will have to invest in strengthening this relationship due to the critical role that her principal clients, political parties, play in the electoral process.