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ELECTION 2022

What rise of independents means for Kenya’s politics

POLITICS
By Protus Onyango and Moses Nyamori | May 15th 2017 | 2 min read
Changamwe Parliamentary aspirant Peterson Mitau (middle) has joined a long list of aspirants who will be vying for the seat as partyless candidates. [Photo: Kelvin Karani/Standard]

The surge in the number of independent candidates in the August 8 poll has raised the spectre of challenges for the next government.

This spectre looms darker should partyless politicians form the majority in the next Parliament or county assemblies.

The Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) has cleared close to 4,000 candidates to run as independents for various seats.

Should they form the majority, experts say there would be need for legislation to redesign how Parliament and County Assemblies work.

Changed roles

Roles and membership of majority and minority leaders, chief and minority whips and the composition of parliamentary and county assemblies committees would also have to be redefined.

The constitution defines the leader of the majority in the National Assembly as the leader of the largest party or coalition.

It also defines leader of the minority party in the House as the leader of the second largest party or coalition.

And herein lies the dilemma.

What happens if Jubilee’s President Uhuru Kenyatta or Raila Odinga of National Super Alliance (NASA) becomes President and their coalitions fail to marshal the requisite numbers to control business in Parliament?

What if governors who are defending their seats as independents win but have majority Jubilee or NASA Members of the County Assembly (MCA)?

Elijah Ongoya, the Dean of Kabarak University’s Law School avers that the emergence of independents in Kenya’s democracy might change the way Parliament operates.

“When these independents are the majority in Parliament, the traditional roles of the majority and minority leaders might be redefined,” Ongoya said.

The lecturer posits the independents might also hold the President at ransom and force him to agree to their demands or a memorandum of understanding.

Constitutional lawyer Bobby Mkangi says the rise of independents might be challenging but not unprecedented. Uganda, he points out, has 66 independents in its House, more than the official Opposition.

A similar scenario is unfolding in France where Emmanuel Macron has been elected President yet he has no majority MPs.

According to Mkangi, such a President would have to work hard to win over independents to support his programmes.

“This is a fluid situation and to succeed, one must be well organised and have great mobilisation skills,”says Mkangi.

Lawyer Charles Kanjama says coalition building would be the only way out. Still, he says, the scenario would not be entirely hopeless.

“In a presidential system, nothing stops Parliament from being run by an Opposition party. The President can veto what he does not like,” says Mr Kanjama.

But former chairman of Law Society of Kenya (LSK) John Akide says the rise of independents is a temporary creation of sham party nominations.

“After formation of assemblies they will go back to their parties,” he says.

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