Party-hopping: Is the Kenyan political party real or just a trick?

The politicking season is over and with the recent ‘handshake’ between President Kenyatta and Raila Odinga, much of the heat has gone off in local politics. However, long before that and soon after the election results were announced, political party offices across the country were boarded up and shut. Usually, political party offices are closed immediately after the polls to reopen just before the polls five years later.

The thousands of activists and supporters who rally around parties and candidates find themselves abandoned and forgotten. Many sacrifice time and resources to see candidates of the party of their liking elected only to be forgotten along with the furniture and cobwebs in the party offices. Should it be that the landlord is not the winning candidate in the local elections, then rent payments cease immediately. Then, the only thing remaining will be the party logo or emblem on the outer walls unless a kind advertiser appears to paint it over for free.

The political party takes a sabbatical until the next elections when likely a new cast of actors take over and move the offices to a locale of their liking. The party hops from building to building or even one location to another depending on the prevailing party candidate. In some cases, the logo and colours are painted over as the allegiance of the local candidate shifts with the political winds.  One morning a building may display the colours of Party X and by nightfall, the same building boasts Party Z colours.

Never fair

It is evident, political party following is seasonal. That may be okay for the voters as their priorities and desires change but is quite telling of the character of our politics when it is leaders who abandon their declared parties as if they are houses on fire.

Barring intractable differences of opinion or party direction, there are few legit reasons for politicians to hop from one party to another. The common cry after party nominations is; party nominations are never fair. Be that as it may, some politicians change loyalties the day after election. This clearly suggests they were in the race to win for themselves and not for the sake of their supporters. Certainly, the person whose allegiance shifts after a mere massage is not driven by solid values or principles.

It is against this background that the calls to rally political leaders around the presumed candidacy of Deputy President William Ruto in 2022 should be read. In the coast region, there is a robust attempt to hijack the spirit of the ‘handshake’ and convert it into a clarion call to rally elected leaders around the candidacy of the Deputy President in 2022. That is a non-issue but for the fact the chief proponents in the region belong to the Orange Democratic Movement and not the ruling Jubilee Party.

The big question is; what has suddenly changed to make William Ruto the darling of members of parliament that he was not hardly eight months ago during the elections? Without doubt Mr Ruto has not expounded any radically different ideas form those which he was pursuing during the elections. Whereas I do not begrudge his new-found support, the onus is on his new parliamentary supporters to expound to voters the thinking behind the sudden change.

It should be clear that the ‘handshake’ is not about support for individual political ambitions but rather a refocusing of national discourse and resources towards the key issues affecting Kenyans irrespective of party, tribe, faith or creed.

The sudden shift among the said leaders is indicative of the state of our political parties. For most politicians, political parties are mere vehicles for participating in elections. Many of them do not have any convictions attaching them to their chosen party apart from the ease with which they end up elected. This kind of leaders will likely have no care about their supporters and constituency beyond using them as a stepping stone towards their ambitions.

Likewise, even the support they declare towards a certain political direction is fickle and driven by a sense of opportunism. They are not unlike fair-weather friends who jump into the bandwagon whenever the ride is good. At the slightest turn of fortune, they will be quick to jump off.

Party activities

To weed out political opportunists, joyriders and gamblers from the serious business of governing Kenya we must reinvent the political party. The political party should not exist because of elections but rather because it has an agenda for every locality in Kenya. Party activities should extend beyond the persons elected to organising and mobilising the community to participate in the political and governance system after elections.

Parties should be the vehicles through which the electorate express their views on budgets and plans at the two levels of government. Voters should inform policies through their favoured political party structures. If the parties are active at grassroots level throughout, this should be easy. It is for this reason that qualifying political parties are partially funded by the State.

State funding of political parties should be contingent upon compliance with a set  of values and approved action plans that build up the overall governance regime in the country.

Mr Kingi is the Mombasa County deputy governor