Direct tickets threaten to affect gains made in electoral process

Former Nairobi Governor Evans Kidero, Ida Odinga (centre) and Homa Bay Woman Rep Gladys Wanga. Orange Democratic Movement gave Ms Wanga a direct ticket for Homa Bay Governor seat, a move that Kidero has protested. [James Omoro, Standard]

Voters are slowly losing their ability to determine which candidate will represent them in the elections as political parties increasingly opt for alternative methods of picking flag bearers.

More than ever before, political parties are opting for negotiated democracy, consensus and opinion polling to decide who will be nominated.

Party primaries in Kenya are notoriously fractious.

In 2017, the Jubilee Party had to conduct repeat primaries after the first exercise was marred by irregularities and ended with destroyed ballot boxes and burnt ballot papers in some instances.

ODM nominations were also chaotic and in some cases, supporters exchanged blows.

Now the two parties have chosen to do things differently.

Deputy President William Ruto's United Democratic Alliance (UDA) and Raila Odinga's ODM have already issued direct nomination tickets to candidates after reaching consensus.

UDA went the consensus route to pick candidates for North Mugirango, Kipipiri, Yatta, Kirinyaga Central, Narok West and Narok South parliamentary seats.

The party also settled on flag bearers for Kisii, Nyamira, Kirinyaga and Samburu senate seats, as well as Kisii, Kakamega, Narok and Murang'a governor seats.

ODM gave a direct ticket to Gladys Wanga for Homa Bay governor seat and settled on a governor candidate for Kwale.

Going to a nomination is, in most cases, a third option for the party.

Some parties such as Maendeleo Chap Chap have it in their election rules that where two or more aspirants show interest for the party ticket for any position, the election board shall build consensus among the candidates to support one of them, or undertake independent research or opinion polling to determine the most popular candidate.

Only when all else fails will the board conduct nominations.

But criticism abound that the method risks robbing the public of a chance to scrutinise candidates' policies, personality, ideologies and experience.

Further, those who find favour with the party and the elite are more likely to be given he tickets. In Homa Bay, former Nairobi governor Evans Kidero has protested after his rival Wanga was handed the ticket.

While consensus has been criticised as denying the public a chance to interrogate a candidate, it has, for the past two elections, been the preferred method in parts of Eastern and North Eastern Kenya.

In the North, clan elders determine which candidates will be elected in what is termed negotiated democracy.

This method has been praised for promoting inclusion and limiting tension between the clans.

The elders, presumed to be working in the interest of the community, pick a candidate who would be fit for election.

They lower the stakes in the election by agreeing on how to distribute political positions between rival ethnic groups and with that, the prospects for ethnic violence.

The Raila-led Azimio faces a test of how it will get the strongest candidate amid rivalry within the affiliate parties.

It is also a race for majority in Parliament and the Council of Governors so as to drive the party position

“I would wish that we avoid nominations and employ consensus in order to get the right candidates,”  Narok Senator Ledama ole Kina said.

Azimio is wary that sibling rivalry could give undue advantage to rivals. 

"I am not worried about nominations. Let every political party carry out the exercise, but ultimately after each party carries out the nominations in the Azimio movement, I would hope that our coalition will now sit down together...nothing stops ODM or Jubilee from withdrawing a candidate," Ole Kina said concerning the step Azimio will take after the election.