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How Independent candidates will change Kenya’s politics after this year’s elections

By Betty Chepkorir | Published Sat, May 27th 2017 at 09:19, Updated May 27th 2017 at 09:22 GMT +3

The August 8 General Election, unlike the political parties’ primaries, will be won in two levels. Level one, is the presidential election which carries the highest political premium. Level two, is the numbers attained in the bicameral legislative houses.

Although a presidential win is critical, to have numbers in the legislative houses is equally crucial, since it eases transaction of government business. Therefore, a “well won” election is both a presidential win and a majority in legislature numbers. Unlike the other elective seats that are won through a simple majority, the presidential seat requires “50 plus one” of the total votes cast.

To be president therefore, the number and turn out of your supporters must be more than your competitors. This is why the question of independent candidates will be a thorn in the flesh for all major parties.

NASA has come out clear to declare that it will not support independent candidates as it considers them competitors. Jubilee however seems to be in limbo on this matter. But why exactly is this decision difficult to take?

The 2017 election is unique. It is the first time Kenyans are encountering many independent candidates. Previously, disgruntled candidates in party primaries had a window to hop to another political party.

This was effectively called off by the anti-hopping law, leaving independent candidature as the only option for nomination losers. Who then is eligible? Article 85(a) of the Constitution requires that, “The person is not a member of a registered political party and has not been a member for at least three months immediately before the date of elections.” The 90 days’ deadline was on May 10.

Notably, there are two sets of independent candidates in the 2017 contest. The first, are those who from the onset have never been members of any political party. The second are members of political parties who participated in the primaries, lost and subsequently resigned within the stipulated deadline to validate their eligibility. In an ideal situation (perhaps the one envisioned in the Constitution), independents would raise no dust. The first category does not. The group causing the current political tornado is the second category.

Of 15,082 candidates who have been cleared by the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission to contest in the General Election, 3,752 are independent candidates. To further escalate their impact, the group was launched on Saturday under the auspices of the Kenya Alliance of Independent Candidates (KAIC). This, in my view was their first score, because numbers and crowds intimidate.

With such a political base, independents will have an influence on voter turnout in August, nearly playing a similar role to that of the International Criminal Court in the 2013 General Election. Their presence is likely to shoot up the voter turnout, which is what the presidential win is pegged on, in light of the “50 plus one” requirement. With this fact, KAIC becomes a political concern and will shape the election outcome.

On one hand, the president needs the independents with their supporters to win. On the other hand, these same independents are running against duly nominated candidates in the presidents’ party. So how should Jubilee handle its campaigns? If the party campaigns for Jubilee candidates in their strongholds, is there a risk of antagonising the independents and their supporters hence reduce the presidential vote?

The flip side

This sounds politically dangerous. On the flip side, if the party brigade does not campaign for its nominees, will it be a failure to stand up and defend their nomination process and will it be seen to doubt it? Will the party nominees not feel orphaned and disadvantaged by having to accommodate those that lost to them?

Lastly, if the party absconds campaigns and their nominees lose, how will the president-elect handle the huge numbers of independents in Parliament?

Herein lies the crossroads and in my view is where you choose the lesser evil. The president had rather compromise with the independents, win their vote and hand himself a mandate for five years. The independent candidates in Parliament will then be enticed to caucus with the side of government since no law prohibits this. If any of the Jubilee nominees would lose to an independent because of lack of intervention by the party, is the government not big enough to accommodate them all?

- The writer comments on political and current issues