The coronavirus pandemic could be a blessing in disguise for mandarins at the helm of Kenya’s three top political parties.
Jubilee Party, led by President Uhuru Kenyatta, Raila Odinga’s ODM and Kalonzo Musyoka’s Wiper Democratic Movement were due to hold elections in the first quarter of this year, with the Political Parties Registrar giving them a March 29 deadline.
But the Registrar, Ann Nderitu, now says the three parties have written to her asking to be allowed to postpone the elections, blaming it on Covid-19.
“We received communication from a number of parties arguing that with the current pandemic, it was not practical to hold elections. We considered its merits and urge them to resume their plans immediately Covid-19 is resolved,” said Ms Nderitu.
Before seeking the extension of their terms, the parties’ officials risked losing their jobs after their terms ended last month.
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According to the Political Parties’ Act, a political party must hold elections every five years.
Formed in September 2016, Jubilee Party has never held elections and only has interim officials picked after the merger of 11 political parties, including The National Alliance (TNA) and United Republican Party (URP).
As the party planned the elections, there was already jostling early in the year between Uhuru’s supporters on the one hand and Deputy President William Ruto’s on the other to take control of the party.
Ruto allies in the party have been uncomfortable with Secretary General Raphael Tuju, who is perceived as a Kenyatta henchman.
They were strategising on securing key positions like that of the SG, treasurer, chairman and organising secretary as they plan for the 2022 presidential race.
It will now be interesting to see how Jubilee will navigate this ticking time bomb that has been a challenge to a number of political parties – big and small.
For ODM, the last time it made an attempt at holding elections was in 2014 when the polls were unceremoniously disrupted by the infamous ‘men in black’. This means the current party officials have been in office for at least six years.
The party had announced they would hold staggered elections at the beginning of this year, although, just like Jubilee and Wiper, it had not set any dates.
Wiper officials’ term ended, and most of them are in office in an acting capacity.
“We have not released the timetable for elections, however we will release it soon. We are planning to have polls for officials across the country at all levels,” Wiper Executive Director Jared Siso had earlier stated.
The parties are also expected to present audited financial results to the Registrar of Political Parties.
As a result, the parties are required to file the new list of officials and financial returns before March 29 with the Registrar.
“Where there is a breach, show cause notice is issued as provided in the Constitution,” Nderitu said.
The Registrar said parties that fail to comply with the law risk being deregistered or suspended.
The Political Parties Act also gives the office of the Registrar powers to withhold funds.
However, the deregistration or suspension of a party cannot affect members elected to Parliament or county assemblies, who continue to serve for the remainder of their term as independents or as members of other political parties.
There were growing concerns the parties’ officials had a limited time to set dates, organise and have elections before the March 29 deadline.
Nderitu said election dates vary among the 68 fully registered political parties depending on their constitution.
International Centre for Policy and Conflict Executive Director Wainaina Ndung’u said the laws in place to bring order in the political parties were effective.
However, he blamed the Registrar of Political Parties for not doing enough to bring order.
“Despite having good laws on political parties, I can say that primaries are skewed to favour individuals. The parties are never held responsible on how they manage themselves or how they serve Kenyans,” said Ndung’u.