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Coalitions don't threaten democracy, High Court tells petitioner

President Uhuru Kenyatta and Azimio la Umoja Presidential Candidate Rt Hon Raila Odinga with other political party leaders during the coalition's campaign rally at Jacaranda Grounds in Nairobi County. [Courtesy]

The High Court in Nairobi has ruled that political coalitions are not a threat to democracy. 

A three-judge bench said political parties will retain their autonomy even when they have a similar ideology.

Justices Hedwig Ong’undi, Esther Maina, and Daniel Ogembo said coalitions existed before, including the Jubilee Party which was formed by merging The National Alliance (TNA) and United Republican Party (URP).

The judgment read by Justice Ong’undi dismissed parts of a case filed to challenge amendments to the Political Parties Act.

The Political Parties (Amendment) Act 2021 was passed by both Houses of Parliament in January and signed into law by President Uhuru Kenyatta on January 27.

The new law provided that political parties seeking to form a coalition party must submit their agreement to the Registrar of Political Parties by April 9. They were also allowed to field joint candidates for elections.

It also allows for the expansion of the Political Parties Dispute Tribunal from the current six to 18 members. However, petitioner Thuranira Selasio said the Act was enacted without public participation.

In its reply, the Azimio la Umoja party and Attorney General Kihara Kariuki in their separate replies asked the court to dismiss the case.

Disrupting electoral process

The party argued that the court will disrupt the electoral process without proof of any irregularity.

“Various political parties and members of the public just like the third interested party (Azimio) have aligned their various affairs, political activities, nomination preparations and schedule per amendments as introduced in the Political Parties (Amendment) Act,” Azimio said. 

According to the judges, the only difference between the formation of Jubilee and the current law is that before parties would have to dissolve, and now, the constituent parties will remain independent.

“Therefore, what Parliament has done is to formalise these practices through legislation. We find that the creation of a coalition political party does not curtail the enjoyment of citizens’ political rights,” Justice Ong’undi said.

The bench found that Parliament was right to seal gaps in the Act by requiring parties to submit their ideologies to the registrar of political parties and require them to give the same in time before nominations.

She continued: “Members of the parties retain their rights to participate in the activities of their respective political parties. We find the argument that the coalition would kill the spirit of multiparty politics is based on conjecture, hypothesis, and speculation.”

The judges however found that sections that shielded coalition parties from financial scrutiny were unconstitutional. 

At the same time, the court also annulled an amendment that had shifted the powers to oversee political parties’ nominations from the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) to the registrar of political parties.

According to the three, the power to manage nominations and elections is exclusive to IEBC.