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Post-independence elections have perfected art of political bargaining

By Macharia Munene | October 3rd 2021

Voters queue to cast ballots at Moi Suba Girls, Migori.  August 2017. [Caleb Kingwara, Standard]

Elections have become part of the Kenyan psyche. The 1957 election, the first for ‘natives’, was among transition elections from colonialism to post-colonialism. Transition elections taught rigging strategies that included massive vote denials. However, it is the recent multi-party elections that have peculiar attractions.

Two elections that attracted heavy ‘international’ interest, the 1992 and the 2007 elections, stand out due to the interest and the anxiety they generated. Since candidates were required to belong to political parties in 1992, John Harun Mwau innovatively created a Party of Independent Candidates of Kenya, PICK. 

The many parties cropping up as the country moves to the August 2022 elections have a lot in common with Mwau’s PICK. They are individual PICK-like power bargaining tools to make ‘leaders’ relevant when it comes to slicing the political loaf. They hardly have anything to do with voters.

Second, parties are safety valves for politicians who are not sure they would clinch the nominations of their chosen parties. Each seeming ‘popular’ political party, therefore, has potent ingredients of disruption as ‘aspirants’ become bitter with their failure to get the desired nomination. Third, parties are potential vehicles that open doors for ‘leaders’ and their buddies to get lucrative appointments after the election. 

The other election was the disruptive 2007, with its international feedings leading to disaster. It had two 21st Century backgrounds in the 2002 smooth transition from KANU to NARC and then in the 2005 Orange-Banana Referendum.

One side considered the referendum a tool for regime change, the other thought of it as exercise in new document acceptability. Voters rejected the document, Kibaki’s government did not fall and, as he pointed out, there was no constitutional vacuum.

Attention then shifted to 2007 as the next acrimonious political battleground with British led ‘donors’ demanding power-sharing as soon as Kibaki won the election. In the process, pre-election predictions of un-governability became reality and half-mkate power-sharing acquired conceptual political normality.  

In the subsequent emerging electoral normality, winning and losing presidential elections becomes starting points in power-sharing calculations; it has three ingredients. First, the winning side appears weak and indecisive either in setting up administrative structures or in maintaining ‘law and order’. Second, the losing candidate has focus on power grab and enough Donald Trump-like fanatical following to cause political havoc.

Ability to make un-governability part of national election political process, therefore, is inherent in the loser’s campaign strategy. Third, forces that are officially external to the political process willingly, often silently, flex their muscles to force rival political players to cut governing deals. It shows the level of national dependency to external factors.

Business, religious organisations, and members of the ‘international community’ gang up to ensure that winners concede ground in the name of ‘peace.’ Kenyans have to live with emerging electoral normality. They include ‘leaders’, whose pledges have no permanency, creating bargaining tools called parties. 

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