Absence of party ideology to blame for lack of issue-based campaigns

Parliament a previous in session. [Elvis Ogina, Standard]

Parliament recently passed controversial amendments to the Political Parties Act. The controversy mainly focused on the formation of pre-election coalition political parties. This week, four Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) announced they were heading to court to challenge the new law's constitutionality. They argued that the process of its passage did not meet the public participation threshold and that creation of ‘coalition political parties’ violates what the Constitution envisioned for our democracy.

The CSOs will also challenge removing the Auditor General from oversight of parties, the introduction of indirect party nomination where delegates interview and select nominees, and provisions releasing parties from gender and equality obligations. Moreover, they posit that such fundamental changes so close to the polls may lead to confusion and compromise the 2022 elections.

The High Court will consider whether the bill was rushed in a way that denied Kenyans a chance to give their input meaningfully. It is noteworthy that public participation, a principle of governance in Kenya, has previously led to the invalidation of many laws by the courts. Critics of the law also posit that coalition political parties and indirect selection of nominees via delegates reek of a return to an elite-centred political process rather than participatory ones. Article 91 of the Constitution requires parties to practice and abide by democratic principles.

Political parties can be described as a group of people united by joint visions for the national interest or people who subscribe to some political ideology hoping to take the reins of government. These ideologies may range from the role of government, taxation, moral, labour, environmental issues or even economic models. They are meant to create a link between government and the people.

Apart from the Kanu and Kadu before independence and their opposing positions on central governance and regionalism, political parties tend to be devoid of ideology. Instead, they are dictated by the whims and interests of the party leader who, despite the façade of internal party democracy, is the only opinion that counts.

Kenyans also learnt with shock that they are registered members of political parties that they never subscribed to. Some are members of parties they have never heard of. Curiously, the Registrar of Political Parties advised them to resign officially.

No one is investigating these illegal registrations. The burden has been shifted to the people  to verify whether they have been erroneously and illegally registered and to remove themselves from such lists.

It is noteworthy that party registration rules require prospective political parties to demonstrate a threshold of nationwide membership. Thus, the fraudulent registrations may have been to stack party registers with the requisite minimums.

Political parties are still personality cult vehicles that have no enduring ideological persuasion besides attaining power. This has allowed the upcoming elections to be about insults and improbable promises instead of debt policy and management, runaway corruption, and economic recovery after the pandemic. Sadly, issue-based or idea-based politics and political parties cannot be forced or legislated.