Contestants in Kibra by-election violated the law

The November 7, 2019, Kibra parliamentary seat by-election was not just any other election. It had a bearing on the anticipated 2022 Kenyatta succession. It was hyped to give an accurate projection of where, in particular, Raila Odinga and Deputy President William Ruto stood in relation to each other in their quest for supremacy post the March 9, 2018 handshake that, no doubt, upset the apple cart.

Ruto, until then exuding confidence he will inherit the mantle of leadership from Kenyatta, could afford to ruffle a few feathers and be complacent. But the handshake shook the ground on which he stood so much that a fissure formed and from it, two sprites -Tangatanga and Kieleweke - emerged. They have been haunting Kenyans since.

For the National Super Alliance’s (NASA) feuding brothers, Kibra was expected to give Amani National Congress (ANC) and Ford –K the chance to get back at the Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) after the January 30, 2018 ‘betrayal’ at Uhuru Park where Raila was sworn in as the ‘Peoples President’. ANC fielded Eliud Owalo, until August 2019 an ODM member, as its candidate.

Kibra has been an Opposition zone for decades. When the seat fell vacant upon the death of MP Ken Okoth, Jubilee was hesitant to field a candidate until Ruto prevailed and the party fielded McDonald Mariga. But Mariga got such drubbing on social media; a lesser mortal would have baulked and ran. In the end, however, Mariga proved he had a strong constitution and emerged second.

The Kibra defeat did not sit well with Ruto. He had earlier bragged he would give Raila the hiding of his lifetime, but ended up with egg all over his face. His pent-up fury has since been expended on Twitter through rancorous tweets while his loyalists have lambasted the Government in which Ruto is second-in-command.

Post the Kibra by-election, Ford-K quietly went into seclusion while ANC went into paroxysms. Rather than join Ruto on Twitter, the no-holds-barred arena for those who feel aggrieved, ANC has trained its sights on Kakamega Senator Cleophas Malala. The senator was elected on an ANC ticket, but openly campaigned for ODM’s Imran Okoth in the Kibra by-election. No doubt, ANC’s decision to suspend him while contemplating further action is justifiable. This is because the rules of decency, fidelity to party and conscience should have made Malala tread with caution.  

If ANC fires Malala, he can choose to go quietly or go to court. If he chooses the latter, he will get an injunction, stall the whole expulsion process and meanwhile, remain a senator. But given that Malala is in the ring firing broadsides at ANC and daring the party to expel him, he might eschew the legal route. He is confident he can ride the tide and be re-elected in a by-election.

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Eliud Owalo campaigned on the ANC party, having joined it in August. Mariga joined Jubilee recently and contested the Kibra seat. Equally, were Malala to be expelled and join another party, more likely ODM, he probably will be nominated to vie in a by-election that would be called within three months. Ideally, Mariga and Owalo should not have been allowed to vie in Kibra, but it was made possible by blatant disregard of rules and regulations. The law stipulates that one must have belonged to a political party for not less than 120 days to qualify for the party’s ticket. Media accounts show that Owalo ditched ODM on August 13, 2019. Independent candidates must not have belonged to any party for at least 90 days before an election.

Political prostitution

That being the case, it seems as if the office of the Registrar of Political Parties has been neutered and is unable to execute its mandate. Political parties must be strengthened to give them purpose. In America and Britain, for instance, citizens know exactly what the Democratic, Republican, Labour and Conservative parties stand for in terms of economic development and foreign policy among others because they adhere to strict regimes.  Members are beholden to the party, not the other way round.  For us, political prostitution, irresponsibility and ideological vacuity are the hallmarks of our politics.

Laws that force accountability on politicians must be enforced. With stringent rules, elected leaders won’t be so bold as to dare and thumb their noses at parties that sponsored them to Parliament. If people knew they must belong to a political party for, say, six months before contesting any seat on its ticket, they will pause long enough to become rational. And it is during those moments of lucidity that they will realise that they have work to do for Kenyans.  Otherwise, parties, funded by the taxpayer, will continue to be a wasteful drain on the exchequer, yet they serve no useful purpose.

Mr Chagema is a correspondent for the [email protected]

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Kibra parliamentary seatODMANCEliud OwaloMarigaImran