Law should enhance democracy and electoral processes

Party primaries are the essence of democracy. They allow party members to select their leaders. [Boniface Okendo, Standard]

The declaration on criteria for free and fair elections by Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) in 1994 reaffirmed the significance of civil and political rights which established that the authority to govern shall be based on the will of the people.

The convention placed emphasis on the right of everyone to take part and choose representatives through free, fair and verifiable elections and citizens to have an equal opportunity to become candidates in elections. It likewise stressed that every individual and political party have the right to the protection of the law and remedy for violation of political and electoral rights.

The IPU further observed that states should take the necessary legislative and other appropriate measures in accordance with constitutional processes to guarantee the rights and institutional framework for free and fair elections.

It is against this background that the Registrar of Political Parties is under obligation to use Political Parties (Amendment) Act to enhance and protect the integrity of the electoral processes. Thus, the new law should not be used to subvert, weaken or stifle the tenets of democracy.

The Act confers the Registrar with immense powers in party nomination exercise which could easily lead to the government micromanaging the primaries. For instance, Section 38C (3) and (4) of Part IV A of the Act states: “A political party that intends to conduct nominations shall apply in writing to the Registrar for a certified copy of the register of members at least 21 days before the date of the nominations. The Registrar shall issue the political party with a certified copy of the register of the political party’s members within seven days after application.”

In the same vein, Section 38E (1) (a) (b) and (d) states: “A political party shall, not less than 10 days before the date of party nominations, notify the Registrar in writing of the method it intends to use in conducting nominations; the date of nominations; and the list of party members who wish to be nominated.”

Section 38G (1) (b) states: “A political party that intends to conduct indirect nominations shall submit the list of delegates to the Registrar at least seven days before the date of nominations.”

Ideally, this gives the Registrar broad discretion and extensive powers to manage parties’ nomination processes. Therefore, if the Registrar's office fails to exercise its mandate judiciously, the State could micromanage the primaries.

Party primaries are the essence of democracy. They allow party members to select their leaders. But for party nominations to fulfill their critical function, they must be free and fair.

New political formations are in the process of recruiting members and formalising party registers. Hence, the new law should not be used hurt these parties. The new outfits should be given ample time to validate their membership registers considering that IEBC has set April 16 – 22 as the timeline to conduct primaries.

The Registrar should not alter basic principles on nominations. Instead, the Act should be used to safeguard the primaries and promote citizen participation and accountability in the electoral processes. The Act should act as a catalyst for democratic development.

Mr Sossion is a member of parliamentary committees on Education and Labour