Ideas & Debate

What independent aspirants missed in race to State House

Nairobi State House. Nonaligned presidential hopefuls should bring on board consultants to help articulate their agenda. FILE PHOTO | NMG
Nairobi State House. Nonaligned presidential hopefuls should bring on board consultants to help articulate their agenda. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

Read my lips: no new taxes” was the watershed statement of George Bush Senior’s presidential career. He first stated it at the August 1988 Republican National Convention as a pledge not to tax the American people further, as per his campaign platform.

It is believed to have helped him win the election in November that year. However, in 1990, the Democrat-controlled Congress came to a budget agreement with his administration that ended up increasing taxes in order to reduce the existing budget deficit.

His Republican opponents during party primaries, and Democratic Party candidate Bill Clinton in the main presidential campaigns, derisively reminded him of his failure to live up to the campaign promise. “Read my lips: I lied” was their snarky counter claim.

Sneaking in between Bush Senior and Clinton was Texan billionaire Ross Perot who was running as an independent candidate. The growing federal budget deficit and fears of professional politicians allowed Perot’s candidacy to flourish as a credible alternative.

By June 1992, Perot-led national public opinion polls by 39 per cent compared to 31 per cent for Bush and 25 per cent for Clinton.

The presidency was his to lose if pollsters were to be believed. Part of his campaign bellowed against the growing levels of internal and external debt that were driving the enormous budget deficit.

A few fatal missteps led him a drop in popularity, including dropping out of the race in July and re-entering the race in October.

He still finished with a decent 19 per cent of the popular vote in the main November 1992 election which was the highest share of votes achieved by a third-party presidential candidate since Theodore Roosevelt in 1912.

The first part of the July 24, 2017, Kenyan presidential debate featured three independent candidates. On the podium was the potentially fiery intellectual collective of Dr Ekuru Aukot, Dr Japhet Kaluyu and Prof Michael Wainaina.

But alas, if anything, what we saw was that collective intellect being cremated, ignited largely in part by the fire of moderator Yvonne Okwara’s sunny disposition.

Just as I was thinking: I can’t see the difference in any of you, Ms Okwara stepped into the realm of my audience world and noted how all the candidates sounded the same.

From the Rhumba hit: “I will get all youth laptops” to the country music song: “I will cut the cost of living” and the reggae riddim: “I will reduce taxes” we were treated to promise after eye-rolling promise of what they would do. The ubiquitous cherry on the icing of the political promise cake was the “I will get rid of corruption” mantra that only lacked strains of Bach’s Cello concerto in G minor playing in the background, to give it the gravitas it struggled to generate.

What would have made a significant difference in the candidate rhetoric would have been the “how”, not the “what”.

How will all those promises be met, particularly where economic impact is being dangled like a cold can of beer at a crowd of rugby fans?

Dr Aukot slyly asked the audience to check out his manifesto on his website during his talk time which I did.

On the site, Dr Aukot leads with what he will do with taxes in four bullet points that each start with the words abolish, waive, waive and abolish. I can hear the guys in the hallowed Treasury building snorting with derision.

How can you run, let alone grow your economy by abolishing and waiving all manner of taxes unless you’ve got some new ones hidden under your collar?

Neither Dr Kaluyu nor Prof Wainaina provided additional insight on how they would deliver on what they were promising for the economy nor did they provide links to any websites.

Ross Perot’s 50-page economic proposal included cuts in domestic spending, an increase in income taxes for the wealthy and an increase in petrol tax in order to eliminate the budget deficit in five years.

According to exit polls, majority of Perot’s supporters were white males, with 63 per cent aged between 18 and 44 and about two thirds had not received a college degree.

Wanjiku (the ordinary Kenyan) would understand if you told her that in order to improve her life, you would tax wealthy Kenyans more and use those taxes to pay for her kid’s education or her health.

Bill Clinton aptly campaigned that year: “It’s the economy, stupid!” to summarise everything wrong with George Bush. Future independents would do well to hire economists as key campaign consultants. In the meantime, vote wisely on Tuesday.