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Long odds await independents who become MPs, governors

By Alphonce Shiundu | May 7th 2017 at 12:00:00 GMT +0300

Nairobi governor aspirant Miguna Miguna

An independent MP is simply a political prostitute ready to sell his or her soul to the highest bidder in Parliament in exchange for perks and privileges that come with belonging to a political party. They answer to no one. They don’t pay any monthly fee to any party. It is all about them and their constituency. They are in it for survival, and even if it means shaking hands with the devil to thrive, they will gladly do it.

That’s the picture Sunday Standard got after interviews with people who have worked in Parliament and academics familiar with the parliamentary horse-trading.

On the other hand, even though it is yet to happen, the prospect of an independent governor paints a picture of a county boss who will be held hostage by Members of the County Assembly, and if he doesn’t play ball, the big parties can gang up and send him home, and then wait to fight it out later.

The story is that in the National Assembly right after the 1992 elections, there was only one MP elected on the ticket of the Party of Independent Candidates of Kenya (PICK).

Darling and victim

According to Mr Patrick Gichohi, who served the parliamentary bureaucracy in a career that culminated into him being the Clerk of the National Assembly and who was there at the time, the MP was a darling and a victim of circumstances.

“That’s the closest we came to what we now call independent candidate. But that MP couldn’t be drafted by the big parties to join any committee and had to depend on the magnanimity of the big parties. When it came to voting, everyone would be rushing to get him to their side, they’d say ‘support us and we’ll give you this,” recalled Gichohi, now a commissioner with the Public Service Commission.

On offer was committee membership, foreign trips and even a government job as an assistant minister, now that back then, ministers and their assistants were picked from parliamentarians.

The tragedy is, if you didn’t come through with your offer, the next time he’d go the other way. There was no guarantee that the horse-trading was going to work.

Gichohi, who was the Clerk of the National Assembly in the Tenth Parliament, when the current Constitution was written and is familiar with the thinking behind independent candidacy, said the goal was to allow people who felt disenfranchised in their political parties to meet the electorate at the ballot.

But with reported 2,000 independent candidates seeking clearance from the Registrar of Political Parties ahead of the expiry of the deadline tomorrow, the complication is that if a significant number make it to the august House, they will have a say collectively as if they are a political party.

To do so, they will need to go to the Speaker of the House and ask that they be recognised as independents, and if the Speaker allows it, then their caucus will have a seat in the House Business Committee that sets the House agenda, and also have a slot in the different parliamentary committees.

Deal-making

The other problem, according to Dr Masibo Lumala, a senior lecturer at Moi University’s School of Communication, is that it is difficult for independent candidates to remain “truly independent” in a House where interests and deal-making is the order of business. “They will have to inevitably align themselves to the major political parties. For instance, in the current Parliament, the member of Cherangany, Wesley Korir, was aligned to Jubilee Party. And so was John Serut (Mt Elgon). It is difficult in that environment for them to walk alone... the challenge is in maintaining that independence,” said Dr Lumala.

Aside from Serut and Korir, other independent candidates were Gatobu Kinoti (Buuri), Katatha Maweu (Kang’undo), and Patrick Musimba (Kibwezi West).

Of all these, only Musimba had a semblance of independence, but his one-man status was tested when he attempted to bring a motion to discuss the conduct of the Speaker of the National Assembly, Justin Muturi, who was sponsored by the Jubilee coalition, which has a near-absolute majority in the House. Musimba was heckled, interrupted and harassed not to make his point. Though he tried, the motion was a failure. Musimba suffered embarrassment among his peers, for failing to recruit backers and to “prepare the ground” for such a historic undertaking of being the first MP to try to deal a blow to the Speaker.

Horse-trading

But he built his bridges with Muturi, and when the Speaker was celebrating his birthday last year, Musimba was the soloist of the birthday tunes in the cake-cutting ceremony that this writer witnessed in the Speaker’s office.

He learned his lesson about networks and horse-trading. For the hundreds of the independent candidates eyeing parliamentary seats, the first duty is to get elected.

They need resources and networks to mount a campaign. The popular informed wisdom is that because campaigns are expensive, many of these candidates who think they have a shot at the ballot will find out that they can’t out-compete a well-organised party machinery behind a nominee of a political party.

“It will be very difficult for them to be elected, unless the voters feel that you were disenfranchised in the party primaries,” said Dr Lumala. But in the case of the governor, once elected, the trouble begins.

“The danger for governors is that political parties will make your work impossible. If you don’t play ball, they will impeach you!” he said, giving the example of Nderitu Gachagua, who was elected as Nyeri Governor on a Grand National Unity (GNU) party ticket. Gachagua died in March.


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