The office of the Registrar of Political Parties (ORPP) places Anne Nderitu in potential conflict with parties, making her job a complex one, given the landmines she has to navigate.
A bitter fight for the Jubilee Party has the RPP in the opposition’s crosshairs, who fault her office’s handling of the wrangles rocking the battered party, a shell of the behemoth its founders vowed would rule 100 years.
Azimio la Umoja One Kenya leaders on Wednesday called for the registrar’s resignation, accusing her of partisanship in recent rulings over the ownership of former President Uhuru Kenyatta’s party.
This followed Ms Nderitu’s ratification of the party’s leadership changes made by a splinter faction led by East Africa Legislative Assembly lawmaker Kanini Kega that included the expulsion of David Murathe as vice-chairperson, Jeremiah Kioni as secretary general and Kagwe Gichohi as treasurer.
The RPP’s ruling came ahead of one by the Political Parties Dispute Tribunal (PPDT) staying any action against the expelled officials, which has since led to confusion over the ownership of the party.
The fight has roped in other Azimio allies, who have made the invasion of political parties a subject in the bi-partisan talks between allies of President William Ruto and opposition leader Raila Odinga.
“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,” former Defence Cabinet Secretary Eugene Wamalwa said during Azimio press briefing on Wednesday, making reference to recent rulings the RPP has made over the fate of Jubilee.
“Following a review of the submitted documents in line with the Political Parties Act and the party constitution, this Office is satisfied that the party adhered to the due process. Accordingly, pursuant to Section 34(da) of the Political Parties Act, this Office has updated its records and the register of party members,” Nderitu told Jubilee Deputy Secretary General Joshua Kuttuny on May 19, a letter that upheld the expulsion of Murathe, Kioni and Gichohi.
On the same day, the RPP ruled that a National Executive Committee (NEC) meeting convened by Kioni on April 28 was unlawful owing to a lack of quorum. But Kioni has accused Nderitu of backdating letters communicating her decisions, alleging a concerted scheme by the state to take over the party.
In February, the RPP stated that a NEC meeting called by Kega’s faction had been properly convened, ratifying the meeting’s resolution to suspend Kioni, Murathe and Gichohi. But the PPDT would quash Nderitu’s decision, tasking Jubilee to resolve its disputes internally.
The recent expulsion of Kioni and other officials which the registrar found lawful, is a result of an internal dispute resolution process conducted by the Kega-leaning side, one snubbed by the rival faction.
Nderitu on Thursday defended her move, saying she followed the law and Jubilee’s constitution in handling the matter. She wondered why Azimio had chosen to try her “in the court of public opinion” when the matter was before a court of law.
“I don’t work with threats and intimidation. There is a manner through which they can challenge decisions made by state officers. We can canvass these issues in court, where they have already taken me,” Nderitu told The Standard, adding that her office was satisfied by Jubilee’s administrative actions, which they evaluate before delisting members from a party, as well as other parameters such as the right to a fair hearing.
“They (Azimio) have a right to picket and to speak their mind about public officers. As a public officer, I can be questioned, and our decisions have been challenged before. Sometimes the courts fault us but most times they uphold them because we follow the Constitution and the statutory laws,” she said, warning against “playing politics with legal problems”.
“They are all my clients and I have a lot of respect for them. We are standing strong because we are protected by the same law that protects them.”
The Political Parties Liaison Committee yesterday came to the defence of the registrar. “We are alarmed by the Azimio onslaught on the office and person of the Registrar of Political Parties. We see this as a broader scheme towards intimidating key public servants and replacing them with cronies and political marionettes,” PPLC chairperson Christopher Kilonzo said, blaming the Jubilee leadership for its woes.
“If you do not hold party elections, and a stranger walks into the office of the Registrar of Political Parties claiming to be your party leader, do you blame the Registrar?” Mr Kilonzo wondered.
Over the years, holders of Nderitu’s office have come under scrutiny especially during election cycles. Since last August’s General Election, the RPP has had to make critical rulings, such as the membership of Azimio affiliated parties that have since defected, stating repeatedly that their withdrawal from the coalition has been unlawful, much to the satisfaction of the opposition.