"Democracy is the worst form of government, except all other forms have been tried from time to time". This quote, that is usually attributed to Winston Churchill, reveals how the search for the perfect political system has dominated political thought and philosophy for centuries.
The author of the quote implies that many government systems have been weighed in the scales and found to be wanting and that even though democracy has its glaring imperfections, it seems to be the best system that we have.
Across the world, progressive politics have given rise to party systems, where the politics of a given jurisdiction are organised around political parties. These political parties subsequently come to life through the coordination efforts of politicians who organise themselves into vote-seeking and governing teams encompassed around a central ideology.
Voters, on the other hand, have the power to select politicians belonging to a certain political party which reflects their aspirations at a given time in politics. Even after an election is done, voters still align themselves around the political party of their liking either as members or supporters.
Admittedly, this system is not perfect, but it seems to be the most stable, compared to other systems. For instance, our neighbour Somalia has for a long time operated under a clan-based system as opposed to a party-based system. The results have been disastrous.
Somalia has had to grapple with decades of civil war that has killed hundreds of thousands, displaced millions and earned it an unenvious position in the list of failed states up to recent times.
Democracies that are considered mature have a lot of lessons to offer on working political party systems. In the United States for instance, the political arena is dominated by two strong parties, that is the Democratic Party and the Republican Party.
Subsequently, voters largely identify either as Democrats or Republicans, even though there are as many as 63 other minor parties. The Democratic Party and the Republican Party have enjoyed a duopoly, winning every election since 1852 to date.
What's more, both parties have an interesting history and have undergone dramatic ideological realignments that have kept them relevant to the changing political tides of that jurisdiction. For instance, the Democratic Party, which was founded in 1792, was largely associated with the defence of slavery, and was popular among white southerners.
The Republican Party, on the other hand, was founded in 1854 by northern anti-slavery activists and rose to prominence with the election of President Abraham Lincoln in 1860.
Currently, the Democratic Party is associated with liberal and progressive thought, while the Republican Party boasts of a conservative platform, and is referred to as the Grand Old Party (GOP) even though it is younger than the Democratic Party.
Both have party platforms, which is the core of their overarching philosophy, and it is through these platforms that the parties develop 'party positions' on political issues such as foreign policy, which are central to American politics.
These issues often form heated debates during political campaigns and elections, and more often than not determine how American voters will cast the ballot. As a matter of fact, it is believed that the Republican Party rose to power in 2016 by adopting a very conservative platform of which its flag-bearer Donald Trump was the poster child.
Here in Kenya, party platforms are more commonly referred to as manifestos, which express a party's position on various issues affecting the 'mwananchi'.
Interestingly enough, the political arena is dominated by two political parties, even though there exists other parties and interest groups such as the civil society.
As a result, some political players and pundits have often referred to elections as a 'two horse race', depicting the dominance enjoyed by the most popular parties of the day.
These two parties are Jubilee and ODM. Both parties enjoy massive support among Kenyans, especially in their core constituencies which are often referred to as 'strongholds' during political campaigns.
Both parties have popular leadership, charismatic figures with appeal among voters. Even then, the Jubilee Party has won the presidency twice since its inception, first in 2013 and the second time in 2017, and now enjoys a majority in both the Senate and the Parliament.
Generally, a political system that lends more weight to parties, their ideologies and their platforms or manifestos offer more to the voter than than those which rely merely on the charisma and populism of the politicians.
It seems better for political parties to craft an identity and an ideology which deeply resonates with the political aspirations of the people, an identity which a charismatic leader fits into.
This way, the focus of our politics perhaps will be less on personalities, and more on parties and issues.
Mr Mokamba comments on topical issues
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