By Koki Muli
The Constitution allows independent candidates to vie for any elective office in the forthcoming elections. This allows election of individuals who do not want to belong to political parties whose ideology/philosophy or leadership they cannot associate with.
Most political parties in Kenya are mainly regional based, although, with national “inclusion” of diverse members to comply with the Political Parties Act.
Also, most parties gravitate around an individual and no one can get political party sponsorship to any elective position if they do not tow the party line or agree with the “patrons” of the party. Those individuals who have resigned or have been expelled from political parties they disagreed with; have opportunities to be elected as independent candidates. In order to qualify as an independent candidate for presidential, parliamentary and county elections, one must prove they were not a member of any political party for at least three months preceding the date of the election and must submit a symbol for their election which the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) must approve and nominate them as candidates.
If vying for County representative, they must also be supported by at least 500 registered voters in the ward concerned. In the case of election to the National Assembly, independent candidates must be supported by at least 1,000 registered voters in the constituency; or in the case of election to the Senate, by at least 2,000 registered voters in the county. An independent presidential candidate requires support of not fewer than 2,000 voters from each of a majority of the counties.
These requirements are in addition to the other qualifications required of candidates for the various positions in an election. Unfortunately, independent candidates do not qualify for a share of nominated seats under the proportional representation electoral system envisaged under Article 90 of the Constitution because only political parties can submit their lists for nominations. Independent candidates also do not qualify for public funding that is available to political parties. This is because political power and democratic governance should be organised around strong national institutions and not around the magnanimity of individuals, however, wealthy and strong they are. This is why village and ethnic political parties with sectarian and parochial interests are divisive and exclusive, and therefore, untenable in an emerging democracy.
The most important function of a political party is to seize power by winning an election and to form the Government. Another function related to this is representation. In many countries, political parties are also used as elite groupings of like-minded people who come together or recruit to formulate goals, articulate and aggregate interests. The main advantage of a political party especially a national one is its strength to mobilise and galvanise entire populations for support and the realisation of aspirations. Political parties have bigger chances of winning elections especially if they are popular and national. This is why in many countries; independent candidates find it almost impossible to win elections. Individuals who have won elections as independent candidates campaigned on powerful local issues such as anti-corruption, protection of environmental and human rights and other short-term local interests, which ensured generalised support.
This is mainly for Local Government elections. It is difficult to galvanise the whole country around an interesting issue that can make one more popular over candidates being sponsored by organised political parties in a divided country like Kenya. It is also very difficult for individuals to raise campaign funding because sponsors prefer to support political parties, which have higher probability of forming Government and returning favours. Finally, independent candidates cannot on their own form governments. A democratic Kenya needs to build strong political parties.
The writer is an elections and constitutional law expert and lecturer, South Eastern University College