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How Kenya Kwanza and Azimio's bull fights undermine democracy

Azimio la Umoja team addressing a presser on Finance Bill 2023 on June 21, 2023. [ Jenipher Wachie, Standard]

It was interesting to watch and listen to MPs in the National Assembly during the third reading of the Finance Bill, 2023.

A number of issues emerged that relate to good governance and awareness of the subject matter.

Members of the relevant Parliamentary Committee executed their work with zeal and appreciation of the issues and the interaction was valuable. However sadly, irrespective of what majority of the public desired and the points of view they advanced, those with numbers carried the day as voting was purely along party lines.

Although the division was only called with respect to the more contentious and intractable issues, the ruling coalition won anyway irrespective of how spirited and convincing the arguments advanced by the opposition were.

These were also issues majority of the citizens had a problem with. Democracy should allow for freedom and equality in decision-making. This means those constitutionally mandated to make decisions, have capacity to do so and allow citizens and stakeholders space and opportunity to hold them to account and be genuinely accountable.

Leaders from either side of the political divide should not coerce their troops to advance certain agendas if they contradict demands and wishes of the people who elected the troops. MPs are elected individually, not collectively. The political party may sponsor candidates and provide them with a structured forum to collectively advance their political agendas and interests of voters. However, party leaders cannot decide for MPs how they should vote especially if their voters hold contrary opinions. This means, that, numbers should give way to better decisions taken for the national good and interests of majority of Kenyans but not to advance party interests.

Kenyans vote for individuals and not necessarily their political parties and their patrons. Some Kenyans complained that their MPs went against their wishes and although housing for the poor is a noble venture, views by majority of citizens on what should be prioritised now and in future should be taken into consideration.

If Kenyans want to prioritise the high cost of living and ending hunger and poverty using a different approach from the one adopted by the government, then so be it.

The quality of our democracy is not only determined by our representative elections but by the quality of decisions made by leaders with the capacity to make them in a genuine and accountable democratic process that considers aspirations of citizens. A democratic regime should be responsive to the electorate and satisfy their present and future demands. Good governance is underpinned by responsibility, accountability, awareness, impartiality, and transparency.

Threats and chest-thumping from either side of the political divide are hurting Kenyans. Our political elite must move on because remaining in elections mode is undermining our democracy and denying good governance a chance.

Diminished accountability threatens institutional legitimacy, and can lead to lack of trust and confidence. When citizens cannot trust their leaders to deliver on their promises/words and safeguard their interests/priorities and deliver on their demands, then the social contract between the governed and the governors is threatened by irreconcilable differences of opinion and viewpoints.

Should the government decide, they know what is best for the citizens? How can a government convince its citizens it has their best interests at heart and at the core of decision-making?

Is the opposition paralysed and unable to coalesce and genuinely hold the government to account? Why is it so difficult for both the opposition and the government to unite and work in a bipartisan manner for the public good and to address our political, social, and economic challenges?

The political hubris manifested by both sides is not only unhealthy but undermines democracy, good governance and hurts Kenyans.

As the political bulls fight, the grass; the citizens continue to suffer and soon they will be trampled to oblivion. Five years is too long for majority of struggling Kenyans to wait to sack their MPs; our leaders must recalibrate their approach and lead.