Why political parties have failed to expel errant members in the past

Registrar of Political Parties Ann Nderitu. [Denish Ochieng, Standard]

Since the enactment of the Political Parties Act 2011, no party has succeeded in expelling either elected or nominated members.

While the law drafters wanted to instil discipline in members of political parties by proposing ways in which a member is deemed to have resigned from the party, players in the political field believed they were deliberate by making it difficult for members to be expelled.

The Political Parties Act lays out grounds when a member can be deemed to have resigned from a party and among them promoting the ideology, interests, or policies of another political party, the single most common clause used by parties while expelling their members.

Opposition Chief Raila Odinga’s Orange Democratic Party (ODM) has many times albeit unsuccessfully, relied on the clause to expel its rebel MPs. The party’s first attempt was barely a year after the implementation of the Act.

This was on August 24, 2011, when the party axed rebel party members from his cabinet among them President William Ruto then Minister for Agriculture, the then East African Community Minister Hellen Sambili, Assistant Livestock Minister Aden Duale among others after they announced that they would ditch ODM to form their own party. 

On October 31, 2016, the Orange party expelled 10 elected leaders among them former Secretary General Ababu Namwamba and Sirisia MP John Waluke and Isaac Mwaura. Others included former Kwale Governor Salim Mvurya, and former Kisii Deputy Governor Joash Maangi among others for going against the party by promoting Jubilee party ideologies. 

In March 2019, ODM’s National Governing Council ratified the party’s disciplinary committee that had found Public Service, Affirmative Action and Gender CS Aisha Jumwa then Malindi MP, to have ditched the party by supporting President Ruto, then Deputy President. 

The attempts were thwarted in court either by the Political Parties Tribunal or the High Court which issued court orders quashing the decision of the parties putting into doubt, the party leaders’ influence on the management of their parties. 

In February 2021, Mwaura, who this time had been nominated as a Senator by Jubilee after ditching ODM was suspended alongside Seneta Mary Yiane, Naomi Waqo, Millicent Omanga, Prengei Victor, Iman Dekow, and Gona Christine Zawadi.

While others were pardoned, Mwaura’s expulsion was taken to a higher notch after the Political Parties Tribunal okayed the party’s decision, a move that saw his name de-gazetted leading to a protracted legal battle between him and the then-ruling party.

In what is entered as the closest attempt by the political party to expel its member, Mwaura braced for a political cold for seven months and only got a reprieve after the High Court quashed the decision by the party and the Political party’s tribunal.

Azimio la Umoja leader Raila Odinga speaks during a past event in Kitutu Masaba, Nyamira County. [Sammy Omingo, Standard]

In the newest attempt to instill ‘party discipline’, the ODM this week expelled five MPs including Elisha Ochieng’ (Gem), Caroli Omondi (Suba South), Gideon Ochanda (Bondo), Tom Ojienda (Senator, Kisumu County) and Phelix Odiwuor (Lang’ata).

They were accused of openly associating with and supporting the activities of a rival political party and for opposing lawful decisions and resolutions made by the party organs.

Stakeholders, who include the Registrar of Political Parties, Secretary Generals, and political party officials feel the drafters of the Political Parties Act were deliberate in creating the balance of the excesses of the political party’s leadership.

“The drafters of political party’s laws crafted it in such a manner that the stages and procedures of expelling members would protect them from unfair termination,” Ann Nderitu, the Registrar of Political Parties noted.

She added that the drafters envisaged the Internal Dispute Resolution Mechanism (IDRM) as a tool for dialogue and reconciliation discipline and not expel them, hence, the reason it has been completely difficult for parties to expel their members.

“But the Kenyan political system lacks political hygiene that should allow members to either stick to their parties or resign and seek fresh mandate. To mitigate this we are in the process of reviewing and analysing the post-election happenings with a view of recommending for amendment of political reform laws,” Nderitu told The Standard on the phone.

However, Mwaura, who has survived two expulsion attempts by ODM and Jubilee party feels that the structure and model of political parties in Kenya are undemocratic and that’s why they expel members based on personal considerations rather than real principle saying ‘it’s their tyrannical behaviour that pushes away their key members.’

“The party leaders treat their political parties as personal property yet they are funded by the public and regulated as such. Moreover, they don’t last more than one or two general elections without shrinking or dying altogether,” he claimed.

According to Mwaura the Constitutional design that the political parties midwife democracy is a fallacy as they are undemocratic adding ‘this explains why good governance hasn’t permeated the inner sanctums of political spaces since the quality of leaders are midwifed in very opaque and corrupt environments.’

'ODM rebel MPs', from left: Elisha Odhiambo (Gem), Felix Odiwuor (Lang'ata), Paul Aburo (Rongo) and Caroli Omondi (Suba South).  [Elvis Ogina, Standard]

The Ruling UDA Party Secretary General Cleopas Malala said the political party law aspired to convince more members to join the party and not to expel them, a move he attributed to the failed attempts saying parties that championed the removal of members were in ‘self-cannibalism mode’.

“Having understood the concept, we in UDA aspire to accommodate divergent views and that is why we did not crack the whip to our members who did not vote for the Finance Bill because our approach is political tolerance and persuasion,” he told The Sunday Standard on phone.

He said pushing away members was forcing idol worshipping in the political parties and that is why we have taken a completely different route. 

 Nominated MP Sabina Chege, who survived expulsion from Jubilee earlier this year said the insincerity of party leadership was to blame for the failed removal of the elected leaders from the parties and faulted a section of the law which she said has been abused.

“The clause that allows the political party to initiate expulsion of the elected leader for promoting ideologies of another party is vague and I’m in the process of sponsoring an amendment to remove the provision,” she said.

According to Chege, the clause should be replaced with when a member proclaims or deregisters from the sponsoring party will be deemed to have resigned from the party.

She said the vagueness of the current provision was that it was other members who decided on behalf of the victim on why has and has not resigned.

Lawyer Simon Gakuru and former Amani National Congress (ANC) Secretary General said the drafters of the political laws were politicians who sought to protect their position.

“They made it so hard and established bureaucratic procedures for one to be deregistered from the party in a bid to guard their positions,” he said.

East African Legislative Assembly (Eala) MP Kanini Kega said: “The political parties in Kenya have not matured enough to adhere to strict procedures of removing their members. What has been happening in Kenya is sheer shenanigans and that is why the law has sided with the victims.”