Why we should have two strong parties

The year was 2012. The place was Laico Regency, Nairobi. I was attending a meeting where William Ruto, the then a presidential candidate for the United Republican Party (URP), was the chief guest.

The campaigns were heating up. The election date had been set for March 2013. There was still some jostling over coalitions and political partnerships.

Six months before the elections, the current top political leadership was in serious negotiations. All leaders were in talks and all of them were in the Government. No one knew for sure what would happen.

Raila Odinga was the Prime Minister. He was actually the boss of President Uhuru Kenyatta, a deputy Prime Minister then.

Kalonzo Musyoka was the Vice President and William Ruto had served as a minister in the Grand Coalition Government. On this day in late November 2012, Mr Ruto was meeting with professionals from the upper Eastern Kenya and I happened to have been invited.

Ruto was in a campaign mood and spoke for close to an hour to convince us why we should join the URP. Give it to Ruto, he has a gift of the jocular gab. URP, he said, represented the interest of the pastoralist communities. He talked passionately about his new baby.

He explained why it was important to form a coalition of pastoralist communities. What struck me was the convincing language that Ruto used to persuade us to join his newly formed party. And indeed he succeeded. The rest as they say, is history.

For More of This and Other Stories, Grab Your Copy of the Standard Newspaper.

The pastoralist communities overwhelmingly voted for URP and by extension, the Jubilee coalition in the election. It was the powerful way in which he talked that did the convincing. Nothing else.

Fast forward to December 2015. Again, I happened to be part of the national delegates that gathered at State House Nairobi to endorse the merger of the Jubilee parties to form one united party, the Jubilee Party of Kenya.

In the meeting hosted by President Uhuru Kenyatta and his deputy William Ruto were Jubilee governors, deputy governors, MPs and Members of the county assemblies.

Once again, Ruto was powerful in his speech. He eloquently explained why the merger was the way to go. The guy is a good marketer.

Presenters before him had elicited wide yawns, fake smiles and perfunctory clapping. I am sure most of my colleagues were looking at the exit because this is not what many of us had expected.

The technocrats crafting the modalities of party structure and form were unconvincing, to say the least. It was a hard sell. But once the Deputy President took over the microphone, he gave a bravura performance. And voila! He left the delegates cheering loudly, obviously convinced that the merger was necessary for the country.

Two things; the Ruto who spoke in 2012 and the Ruto who spoke this year are not so much different.

Silver-tongued politician

The ideals Ruto espouses now are "big-picture and long-term". You cannot begrudge him the urge to steady the Jubilee ship in readiness for his Presidency bid in 2022. It is necessary. But it is what the merger will mean for Kenya and democracy that matters to me.

It is worrisome that all it took for us to change political party allegiance (in 2012 and 2015) were the words of a silver-tongued politician.

In other words, the meeting at State House espoused promise and peril for our democracy.

First it was time we did away with the highly fractious political culture where tribe and party are of the same shade and trumps all else. For me, the creation of a strong national party will, in a big way, reduce the number of regional and ethnic political parties that have been blamed for our chaotic democracy where loyal and responsible opposition is seldom heard.

Previously, political parties have been vehicles for self-promotion devoid of any substance and ideals. That is why party-hopping became a smart political career move.

In Kenya, the time has surely come for parties based on ideals. Our democracy is sophisticated enough to allow for political ideals to flourish; where the country avoids the tradition where parties die soon after elections.

No doubt, two huge parties will entrench democratic values, where the winners remain graceful in their victory and the losers accept the outcome and plot to take over power in the next electoral cycle; not trying to find a back door to share the spoils with the winners.

I envisage a situation where elections are a two horse-race just like in advanced democracies like the United States and the United Kingdom and India.

In truth, two big parties can withstand nomination fall-outs, do away with briefcase parties and last-minute defections that soil our democracy.

Moreover, they will stand for something. In which case, one is either one or the other. Never a shade of the two. In this futuristic set-up, the party will be bigger and stronger than any individual.

Decisions by the party hierarchy will be final and binding.

Those dissatisfied can still run as independents. This will surely make Kenya more cohesive and the elected officials will be looking after the national interest and not local and narrow ethnic interest.

We are undertaking a survey to help us improve our content for you. This will only take 1 minute of your time, please give us your feedback by clicking HERE. All responses will be confidential.

Opposition partyWilliam RutoKalonzo MusyokaRaila Odinga