Power of independent poll candidates


IEBC officials inspect ballot boxes. FILE PHOTO | SAMUEL KARANJA

The Registrar of Political Parties indicated a few days ago that her office had processed requests by about 5,000 individuals seeking to run as independent candidates in the 2022 elections.

A few days later one of the presidential candidates indicated that he would reach out to this pool of politicians to seek partnership with them to form a third force in the upcoming elections. This demonstrates the potential power of independent candidates in this year’s elections.

However, whether this was intended as such is a different story. Although there were more independent candidates in 2017 than in 2013, the importance of these candidates is greater in this year’s elections. This can be attributed to two related factors.

First, the attempts by parliamentary political parties to lock in candidates into their nomination processes through legal amendments baring party-hopping that was a hallmark of the 2013 elections.

The second was the way nominations were undertaken, largely adopting a non-participatory methodology.

The constitutional provision guaranteeing the rights for people to vie for elective positions as independent candidates as long as they are not a member of a political party at least three months to the date of a General Election was not only foresighted but has become a saving grace.

Political parties are designed as the main vehicles for competition for political power in a democracy. This fact is recognised by the 2010 Constitution, which elaborates on the basic requirements of political parties.

It does this out of the appreciation of their preeminence place in the representation and electoral sphere of the country.

The expectation is that political parties are to be democratic and governed based on the ethos of democracy and the ideals of constitutional governance.

Article 91 requires parties to promote the objects of the Constitution, which includes Article 10 on national values. Parties are also expected to have internal party democracy and ensure fairness in their processes.

Nominations to contest any elective position during a general election is a cardinal right that every party member who desires to lead covets.

One hopes that the party will be their vehicle to electoral victory. In addition to being a popular candidate, the party infrastructure also plays a big role in one’s chances of winning an elective seat at every level of the representation chain.

If one looks at the number of those who have moved from their parties after the nomination process or in fear of the process, it will be clear that the majority if independent candidates are not those who were never members of their parties but those who have moved away because of dissatisfaction with how their parties have conducted their affairs.

Kenya has invested heavily in political party democratisation and strengthening.

The annual allocation of political party financing, the existence of the office of the Registrar of Political Parties coupled with its capacity building programmes and those of other organisations including civil society shows the premium that the country pays to strong and democratic parties. They are a key cog in the democratic governance of the country.

The fact that we are going into an election with more independent candidates than that of any single political parties is an indictment of the internal democracy of political parties. It is also a wakeup call for the country.

It is important that efforts to perfect our democracy pay attention to the framework for independent candidates. As opposed to being left to their own designs, more efforts should be put to strengthen this avenue that is captured in the country’s Constitution.

These should include increased awareness on the position of independent candidates, public support for their operations and engagement in the democratisation process.

Several years back there was a Party of Independent candidates of Kenya. Without going back to this situation, it is possible to increase the focus and engagement around independent candidates.