Can the Office of Registrar of Political Parties (ORPP) act independently void of influence peddling and interference by powerful forcess in a country where the modus operandi are shameless, deceitful and coercive politics?
These are some of the questions being asked as the spotlight remains firmly focused on the Registrar, Anne Nderitu. In the raging contest for the control of Jubilee Party by a faction allied to the party leader former, President Uhuru Kenyatta, and another linked to his successor, President William Ruto, Nderitu has made decisions that have stalked controversy.
The saga is being closely watched by key players in the political arena, among them, the Centre for Multi-Party Democracy (CMD), rival political party coalitions, political pundits and analysts, including interested parties locally and in the diaspora.
CMD Director Franklin Mugwanja has urged Ms Nderitu to use her office prudently and ensure the rules of regulating political parties are fully adhered to when settling any disputes for the country to deepen a vibrant democratic culture.
“She has the rule book and we expect that it is utilised for resolving party disputes like the one in Jubilee but the moment she crosses the set line then we will be calling her out,” says Mugwanja.
The ORPP is currently battling a credibility challenge after President Kenyatta’s supporters claimed that she backdated letters used to ratify the alleged expulsion of Secretary General Jeremiah Kioni and vice chairman David Murathe from the party leading to calls for her resignation by the Azimio la Umoja One Kenya coalition party.
“The Registrar of Political Parties Anne Nderitu must leave office in view of clear manifestations that she has been co-opted into partisan and illegal schemes by Kenya Kwanza to cripple instead of protecting political parties. Anne Nderitu no longer enjoys the confidence of her clients, the political parties,” said Azimio Principal Eugene Wamalwa at a press briefing last week.
But as Mugwanja and his team caution the registrar against being tempted to tamper with the law on political interests, they also understand that she is a regulator of politicians who try as much as possible to blur the line between politics and legal positions.
As they wait for the ongoing legal processes over the Jubilee case to conclude, CMD also wants Nderitu to be more clear on whether the process was duly followed to deregister Kioni and Murathe.
“Were they given an opportunity to state their case because deregistering someone is a very serious issue? That is why CMD will explore and find out if due process was followed on those and other key issues,” added Mugwanja.
Again as they wait for court decisions, CMD will be looking at the returns filed at the ORPP from the NDC convened by President Kenyatta and held on May 22, 2023 at Ngong Racecourse. They will also scrutinise Nderitu’s ruling on the same to see if due process has again been duly followed.
The CMD boss appealed to the RPP to continually explain herself on how she is a stickler to the rule of law in letter and spirit, especially on weighty decisions like expelling party members to avoid political connotations.
The ORPP has so far distanced herself from accusations that she is playing partisan politics by taking sides with the Kenya Kwanza sponsored faction led by East African Legislative assembly MP Kanini Kega, terming attacks on her and the ORPP by the Azimio leadership harassment and intimidation.
Prof Gitile Naituli, who teaches leadership and management at Multi-Media university, argues that the ORPP’s office has its fair share of controversies and that is why it requires a strong personality.
“Politics is controversy driven and so it is natural to have disagreements because it is the ultimate organ for distribution of resources in the country. So you need a strong personality with Solomonic wisdom to be able to maneuver through the forest of political animals,” says Naituli.
He, however, regrets the practice of those in leadership positions picking people who are easily swayed by political waves not knowing that offices like the ORPP can create instability in the country if not well managed.
He is among those who think the current RPP has crossed the line of impartiality and is behaving as if she is part of the executive, which means she could be operating as part of the government that was formed by a political party.
“If it is true that she manufactured letters and backdated them to justify the legality of one faction within a party then she is out of order and needs to leave because then she is unable to carry out the mandate as prescribed by the law,” said Naituli.
The Registrar has however denied those claims, explaining the letters were processed on May 19, 2023 and then delivered on Monday May 22, 2023 as required because they had already received communication from the Kega faction that they were processing before Kioni’s side held its National Delegates Conference (NDC).
Prof Naituli however laughed off that explanation arguing that had she been a neutral arbiter, then Nderitu only needed to look at Jubilee constitution which gives the party leader and not the National Executive Council (NEC) authority to call the NDC and other decision making meetings.
Kioni has since filed a petition with the Political Parties Disputes Tribunal against her decision, which was certified as urgent on Friday barely a day after stopping their ouster.
Unlike her predecessor, Lucy Ndung’u, who also waded through controversy after controversy for many years while serving in an acting capacity, Nderitu’s office is now properly established with no strings attached. It is not a division of the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission at Anniversary Towers where they both previously based.
Mugwanja says CMD has held very progressive discussions with the ORPP, an ongoing progress that has made a lot of strides in terms of jurisprudence on party lists and party primaries as the country pushes for more accountable democratic structures.
The country now needs to take decisions that can help the ORPP reform its constituting instruments so that they can govern themselves better for a collective positive democratic culture.
“We are not pointing fingers but we caution that when we see her engaging in politics or being a politician that is when we will engage forcefully to see that any decisions made remain legal and non-partisan,” added Mugwanja.
But Prof Naituli also blames President Kenyatta and his Jubilee administration for the mess that was created in many public offices including the ORPP because he allegedly never insisted on picking people on merit.
“He used to select people before advertisement was done for formality and so on most occasions there was never competitive selection of those in executive positions leading to politically connected and not necessarily qualified individuals getting jobs.
His advice to those holding power now and in future is that qualified people have integrity and stick to the law but unqualified persons swing with the wind, always singing to the tune of whoever is in power.
Critics have accused President Ruto and his government of meddling in the affairs of ORPP and making efforts of killing other parties to create a monolithic United Democratic Alliance (UDA) and that is why they want to push the Jubilee Party out of the way.’
But Nandi Senator Samson Cheragei argues that all the president is interested in is working with all leaders regardless of political affiliation to develop the country. He advised that Jubilee be allowed to exit and join Kenya Kwanza so that any leadership changes can be processed as required by the law and the party constitution.
“You can see the Jubilee members are saying the fact that they are working with the president in consultation for development does not mean they have left the Azimio one Kenya Alliance,” said Cherargei.
He further argued that article 37 and 38 of the Constitution on political rights gives any party the right to shift and work with either Kenya Kwanza or Azimio la Umoja in a pre or post coalition agreement as long as they share the same ideology.
Coups and counter coups have rocked political parties since the Political Parties Act came into force with President Kenyatta being the first victim when he was forced out of Kanu by current chairman Gideon Moi’s faction.
Ford Kenya have had factional disputes most recently in 2021 before the last presidential elections, when current Speaker Moses Wetang’ula managed to ward off threats of a coup fronted by Eugene Wamalwa through his proxies Wafula Wamunyinyi and Simyu Eseli.
The Registrar made several interventions, telling the Wetang’ula group that they failed to raise a quorum of the NEC and Parliamentary Group meeting they held as stipulated in it constitution but they later prevailed in taking control of the party.
Wamalwa is now wearing the other shoe, fighting ferociously from former President Kenyatta’s corner.