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Party hopping not healthy for democracy

COMMENTARY
By Aden Duale | September 4th 2016
MPs have been fighting to delete a section that outlaws party hopping in a report by the joint Parliamentary Select Committee on electoral reforms. This is quite unfortunate. PHOTO: COURTESY

MPs have been fighting to delete a section that outlaws party hopping in a report by the joint Parliamentary Select Committee on electoral reforms. This is quite unfortunate. The arguments put forth by the legislators sound convincing only if you fail to take into account compelling reasons why these last-minute defections are an impediment to democracy.

Political parties ought to be serious democratic institutions designed to serve interests of the people. They should not be reduced to nothing more than avenues for seeking power for personal glory. They ought to be hallowed instruments that positively shape our social, economic and political policies.

It is therefore imperative that before joining a party, you should carefully study its manifesto, vision, ideology and philosophy as well as its leadership. You have to interrogate every aspect of it so that you know the kind of political ship you have chosen to ride.

From the onset, ask yourself if the party upholds the tenets of democracy and will accommodate your political thinking and cherished set of beliefs. When you rush into joining a party without first pausing to take into account these important factors, you are unlikely to have any strong attachment to it and you are bound to jump ship at the simplest of hurdles.

We have been told that defections after nominations should be allowed because of lack of internal democracy in parties. The antidote for this shortcoming is not running away from a party but working to ensure that it exercises democracy.

 Do not opt for the easy route of walking away. Instead, roll up your sleeves and confront upfront the nomination malpractices. Why jump from one party to another when all of them are suffering from all manner of undemocratic maladies? We in Jubilee have chosen to stick together through thick and thin, rally against party-hopping and build a strong party that accommodates diverse beliefs and views.

That a vibrant democracy underpins faster development is an incontestable fact. Countries where electoral outcomes largely reflect the free will of the people make quick strides towards prosperity. Democracy is unattainable where political parties are weak, nebulous and amorphous outfits whose rules and principles are violated at will.

We must begin to appreciate the significance of strong parties to a healthy democracy. This way, we will make resolutely determined efforts to transform them from being merely hollow conduits for political power into critical institutions managed professionally for the benefit of wananchi.

Political parties worth their names must also design rules that will ensure free and fair nominations. They must delicately and prudently strike the right balance between exercising tolerance and instilling discipline. Giving sufficient latitude to free thought and accommodating dissenting views is the lifeline of democracy. Discipline too is a non-negotiable commodity in any political institution.

 Most of those who jump ship after defeat in internal polls invariably do not believe in the principles of that party to which they claim to subscribe and their membership is merely for self-serving purpose.

Because they have no strong bond to any party, party-hoppers are essentially political nomads in blind pursuit of power at all costs. Their thirst for high office is so overpowering that ideologies and policies mean nothing to them and swapping parties is as easy as changing clothes.

Another reason advanced by proponents of party-hopping is that it safeguards the constitutional rights of the candidates where they have been violated. I wish this was the case because I firmly believe in democracy. However, most of these candidates do not accept defeat even in a contest where all rules have been followed. They usually cry foul, even where fairness has prevailed, to win sympathy votes once they defect to another party.

They do not even give a fleeting look into the manifestos of the outfits they are jumping into and neither do they interrogate the political persuasion or track record of the party leadership. Their overriding concern is to clinch that nomination certificate being peddled to the highest bidder by political merchants. The Constitution has room for independent candidates.

 If you feel party polls will not deliver justice to your political ambition, be bold enough and take this route. Yes, some MPs have made it to Parliament after changing parties after nominations. But these are a few isolated cases. We cannot support a system that hurts the majority and serve the interests of a very few people.

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