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Banning party-hopping in Kenya is draconian

OPINION
By Kathuri Murungi | August 23rd 2016

I have taken cognisance of the resolve to have political parties remain intact after gruelling nominations where losers are expected to back up the winning aspirant against the opposition.

I have also noted the strong provision for freedom of expression and choice, which would naturally provide for change of political allegiance any time within a stipulated constitutional timeline.

In light of this, therefore, outlawing switching of parties in an election period is, to say the least, one of the most subversive political legislations since the advent of multi-partysm. Political parties should not be allowed to block disgruntled members from shifting support, especially in a scenario where this dissatisfaction emanates from primaries that cannot pass the test of fairness.

In Kenya's political scene, every election has seen the real winners with the people being denied the prized dominant political party tickets, only to choose other parties and romp to victory. This occurrence must serve as a check and balance for political parties to conduct free and fair primaries; devoid of under-the-table dealings to dish certificates out to their preferred choices.

Competitive and fair primaries would not compel a losing candidate to join another party because common sense would show they would still lose the race anyway. Notably, ordinary Kenyans have confidence in elections conducted by the Independence Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC).

The lack of confidence in IEBC has largely been a narrative advanced by the Opposition to push for its exit. It is now clear that the CORD brigade had not lost confidence in the IEBC as an institution, but specifically in individuals running it.

Elections conducted by the IEBC seem to ward off external influence on the management and, in this case, political wheel-dealers, who would want to illegally grab power through the back door. However, my take is that the use of IEBC in the party primaries for the 2017 election is ill-advised, even when its use is in the spirit of levelling the ground.

IEBC is currently in a crisis mode as its reconstitution rolls on. The next three months will see a crash programme aimed at putting both human and digital resources in total preparedness for the general election. There is nothing illegal in seeking IEBC's professional and capital resources, of course at a fee, for any electoral process. We have seen IEBC conduct very successful and peaceful elections for the Law Society of Kenya and other entities.

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However, the incoming IEBC will be so much constrained for time and perhaps human resource capacity,that their focus should not be on anything else apart from correcting the weaknesses that might have been detected in 2013.

Conducting primaries of a national party like Jubilee Party, which has its tentacles spread across the breadth and width of this country, is akin to conducting a mini election. It cannot be that IEBC will use Jubilee Party nominations as a dress rehearsal for the 2017 election. In areas like the Mt Kenya region, these primaries will actually be the ultimate election and hence will deserve meticulous management.

The perils of using IEBC for party primaries just after smarting from a long held perception that the outgoing office was not entirely partisan, at party level, should make anyone actively involved in the next election to keep off any close association with IEBC, either by default or by design. IEBC will announce the candidate they believe won the primaries. What if the real winner is not declared winner, who will handle all the petitions vis-à-vis preparation for the General Election?

Nominations will always breed bitter fallouts from losers. Accusations of preferential treatment will fly all over. In most cases, the supervisors of the nominations, in this case the IEBC, will be the fall guys, a scenario that is quite a liability if the complainant happens to shift party allegiance and is on the ballot in the final election.

The mere close working interaction that will emanate from IEBC and party officials consultation is unhealthy, especially because money will be involved. Jubilee will automatically become a client of IEBC and it will be an uphill task to convince the "non –clients" that the "clients" won't enjoy preferential treatment.

I would rather the huge resources required to recruit IEBC for primaries be channeled to political parties to strengthen their internal structures. As a huge national party, Jubilee should be given serious capacity to conduct its own internal affairs.

Even if there will not be provision for extra budgets for parties, the party must invest in credible primaries and part of this is to prepare early and focus on levelling the ground so that in each electoral area, the will of the voter will prevail.

The choice of party officials must be people who have the goodwill and spirit for justice and fairness for credible election results. The party must be inclusive to ensure those who run it are representatives of a seamless check and balances structure and system.

In cases of outright shift of electoral fortunes where candidates picked by IEBC fail at the ballot and petitions accrue from such results, it will be difficult for IEBC to play arbiter.

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