ODM justified to expel MPs but it exposes weakness

A section of ODM 'rebel' MPs Elisha Odhiambo, Felix Odiwuor aka Jalango, Paul Aburo and Caroli Omondi who have since been expelled from the party. [Elvis Ogina, Standard]

It is hard to imagine having functional electoral politics without strong political parties.

Tasks such as voter political education and mobilisation, candidate selection, ideological socialisation, policy formulation and implementation, maintaining a potent electoral brand, and organisation of disparate people around the same ideals all require strong organisation in form of political parties.

A political system composed of atomised politicians and which is excessively candidate-centric is likely to entrench political underdevelopment due to organisational deficiency.

Stated differently, successful politics and public administration can only be built on organisational foundations that discipline party members and allow for inter-generation commitments to specific ideologies. This was theoretical motivation behind the quest to limit party defections under the post-2010 dispensation. No longer could presidents poach opposition legislators at will. Presently, the law states that supporting another party is tantamount to resigning from one's party; and that resignation from one's party triggers loss of a legislative seat.

The Orange Democratic Movement legislators that have since begun working closely with the Kenya Kwanza administration ran afoul of both the letter and spirit of this requirement.

Consequently, ODM was justified in expelling them. The expulsion, however, raises two questions. First, should we even have legally-mandated party discipline as part of our political culture? Second, what does it say about how our parties select their candidates when they cannot keep them loyal once elected?

We live in a presidential system. This means Parliament is a corporate body sharply distinct from the Executive. The executive government is directly elected, and does not rise or fall conditional on its level of support in Parliament (impeachments are states of exception).

However, the idea of legally-enforced party discipline is a legacy of our history with a parliamentary system, when the government of the day was required to have a working majority. In presidential systems, legislators are primarily employees of their voters, and not necessarily their respective parliamentary parties.

Our parties are poorly institutionalised. They are also personalist. A party that has to expel members for disloyalty lacks the organisational mechanisms for screening candidates and incentives for keeping their elected officials loyal.

Its supporters are wont to support individuals who would defect; and its organisation lacks the mechanisms to force candidates to stay loyal once elected.

The writer is an Associate Professor at Georgetown University