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Small parties in ingenious plan to beat the big boys

By Gakuu Mathenge | January 29th 2017

Democratic Party Chairman Esau Kioni (center) and other officials during the opening of Embu County DP office in Runyenjes town. (Photo: Joseph Muchiri/Standard)

Keen to reap big from an acrimonious fallout in the big parties, small political outfits are now selling membership and nomination certificates to aggrieved politicians.

Short of financial largese to splash on grand launches, these political parties are deploying technology to reach aspirants and make materials like posters and T-shirts easily downloadable.

Key in their strategy is digital access for membership and nomination certificates, keeping nomination fees rock bottom and online payment applications for candidates.

Through technology, they have made it easy for an aspiring candidate to enlist as a party member, pay for nomination certificate, mount a campaign using readily available publicity materials and get elected without ever meeting party officials or travelling to Nairobi.

“It is working. The beauty of it is we do not prescribe what presidential candidate our members support. We leave it to them to choose. Technology allows the party to offer support services to the candidates online without requiring them to attend tedious meetings in Nairobi,” said Mr Isaiah Ndirangu, chairman of Party Democratic Union (PDU).

By the second week of January 2017, PDU’s website - www.pdukenya.org - had registered over 300 aspirants, and Mr Ndung’u is optimistic the numbers will go up as deadlines for nominations in the mainstream parties draw near.

“Already, many parliamentary, county assembly, senators and governors have certificates in their pockets even as they show up at events of the big parties. Kenyans will be surprised when parties file returns with the registrar of political parties in April,” he said.

PDU charges Sh5,000 for a Member of County Assembly (MCA) certificate.

Ndirangu says this has encouraged a lot of young people because it is affordable.

In return, the party updates their candidates on legal and administrative requirements, helps process Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) and other statutory compliance requirements on behalf of the candidate online.

Keen on curtailing competition and boosting their dominant political muscle, the big boys agreed with speed to a raft of stringent compliance conditions under the Political Parties Act in 2012. Among the conditions was one requiring parties to maintain not less than 24 county branches to function legally.

Forced into a corner, small parties ganged up to register the Political Parties Forum Coalition (PPFC) in 2012, under which they have shared resources like offices and collectively lobbied against dictatorial tendencies by established outfits like Jubilee and CORD.

Through the PPFC, they also get to participate in and contribute in law making processes, and exert a moderating influence on the big boys to embrace transparent and democratic processes by providing options to aggrieved individuals.

In the 2013 General Election, 78 MPs out 290 and 650 Members of the County Assembly (MCA) out of 1,400 were elected on parties that are members of the Forum Coalition, not to mention governors Ken Obado of Migori (People’s Democratic Party, PDP) and Makueni’s Kivutha Kibwana (Muungano Party).

To beat the expensive requirement to operate branches in 24 counties, the 28 members of the Forum share office spaces across the country, so each member can transact business in any of the member parties’ offices.

For instance, PDU’s only physical address is its registered headquarters in Kikuyu town, Kiambu County, but which plays Kiambu branch for all Forum Members, while Mazingira Party of late Noble Lureate Prof Wangari Maathai, plays the Nairobi County branch of all Forum members.

“We expect the Forum members will make the biggest impact in 2017 because of the new legal limitations on party hopping after nominations. Many politicians have secured a plan B by taking out multiple certificates from small parties,” said Mr David Wakahu, the Forum’s board chair.

Among those listed as PDU’s aspirants are Walter Wakhungu (governor Lamu), Kamau Macharia (governor Nairobi) and Weldon Korir (Senator, Bomet)

Democratic Party Chairman Esau Kioni said there were several surprise names on it’s list.

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