By Nkaari Martin K
Why Jubilee Should Go for Party Elections
The cats have been caged and the fight will be ferocious. The anti party hopping clause in the recent amendments to the electoral laws has created a boiling room in the major parties that will inevitably erupt. Already, we have seen the temperatures rise in the showdown in Embu where Senator Lenny Kivuti and Runyenjes MP Cecily Mbarire came to verbal blows. In Kandara constituency, the rebranding of a TNA office to a Jubilee Party office caused consternation as it was interrupted as a power grab by local MP Alice Kimani. This is just the beginning and mainly what has come to national attention. It’s boiling underneath and local rivalries are certainly going to get out of hand with major ramifications at the national level.
All aspirants have set their eyes on the party nominations as the main political event with a do or die mentality. The approach to the nominations is going to be lined with case after case of unfortunate events, sometimes violence and unavoidably some will be fatal. The stakes are just too high and the space is limited. The build up to the nominations must have a few political events that serve as safety valves that the party can use to let out some steam every now and then. Letting these rivalries grow without solving them in stages creates an Armageddon scenario for the D-day whose outcomes will be cataclysmic. Jubilee might find itself more focussed on whipping its core support base back into line rather than focussing on swing regions where it has already heavily invested. A major way to manage the fallout in stages is to hold Jubilee Party elections.
Our politics has been anathema to internal party democracy. In Kenya’s political history especially multi party history, there is hardly a party that has held an internal election that led to elected party officials. It is telling that Jubilee party supporters expected the Party leader to name party officials during the party launch. The President’s side step of the issue was genius as it contained an inevitable fallout on the day after the launch. It was probable that the story would have been more about the party officials bickering and fall out than the successful launch that it was.
Party management matters are difficult; the terrain is rigged with bombs everywhere that one will be lucky to escape without some injury if not total collapse. However parties manage their internal democracy and especially the filling of seats, a fall out and damage will occur regardless. It is a bullet that will get through to you either way. That’s why it makes sense to have the most credible, democratic, legitimate and constitutional process to fill the seats; party elections.
President Uhuru Kenyatta has avowed his democracy credentials over and over. One gets the feeling that he intends to make national unity and development through democracy his defining ideology and legacy. This is the reason why while at the burial of the late William Ole Ntimama, he castigated Bishop Julius Nalamae for remarks that were clearly flagrant of his ideology; Unity and development. The chosen method for realizing his ideology and legacy is democracy. The president wants to build national unity through the ballot. In creating the mass party that Jubilee is, the president intends to bring everyone on board and achieve a national unity that he intends to buttress with development. The Jubilee party constitution is writ large with this idea mentioning it a remarkable 20 times.
In his message to party members in the introduction to the constitution, the President states “Jubilee represents every part of our country, every group in our nation and is committed to uniting Kenyans under a shared vision of peace, progress and prosperity. It is a home for those with this shared vision for our country, with shared values and ideas for its growth and development. I am honoured and proud to welcome you into this party.” The idea that the president intends to achieve this unity through an election is the subtle idea and reinforces his belief in democracy as a means to a greater good not merely an event for election or re-election.
Jubilee party elections, no matter how messy they maybe, will hoist the president as the avowed democrat he is. He would be doing something new Kenyans haven’t witnessed in their political memory and are generally fatalistic about. It would make the Jubilee party the only democratic party in the field for taking words beyond the constitution to the ground. It would show the people that the president has no favourites as he has repeatedly said and urged his handlers towards. It would allow him the space to operate above and beyond as the party leader that he is and create a tiny but remarkable marker in internal party politics, something that is historical and of legacy proportions.
The president would again only be acting within the content of the Jubilee Party constitution. The constitution indeed sets out the party offices and the criteria for election to each. In its preamble the constitution addresses itself to party democracy stating “The Jubilee Party is committed to ensuring democracy by enshrining it at all levels of the party. Internal elections will be conducted transparently in a manner that will be free and fair, with appropriate scrutiny from independent bodies. Our Constitution outlines the rules and procedures for party elections which will be overseen by the Jubilee Party National Board of Elections and Independent Elections and Boundaries Commission.” Article 8 of the Jubilee Constitution clearly states the method for the election of party officials and is an easy, generally bloodless process that is done at the various delegates conventions who emerge from a party member’s popular vote at the polling station level.
Party elections would bring energy, momentum and activity to the party. After the triumphant launch of the party, there exists a vacuum, a wonder on what next for a membership that is clearly already mobilized and motivated to participate. The party has created such a yearning on the ground that activity is needed to fill it besides the tension packed march to the election. It provides the entire membership with activity and opportunity to participate and belong to the party. The massive party membership registration drive that would accompany it would swell the already mass membership to a point that the party can credibly claim to be the largest single party by membership. Elections would offer the party a team of campaign workers whose business will be to ensure its nominated leaders are eventually elected.
Party elections also provide an opportunity to deal with local ambitions and settle rivalries. The declaration by the party leaders that those who are elected as party officials will not be eligible for elections provides an opportunity to contain local ambitions and ensure there is something for more than one. The fallout after the party elections will be a huge opportunity to let off some steam and unnecessary political baggage. It is most possible that those who lose at this stage will leave the party and leave the party leaders with time to reconcile the party and ready it for the party nominations. If it happens in good time, it will have the advantage of giving the party leaders an opportunity to manage fall outs without necessarily hurting the party and its image very close to an election.
Party elections would provide the party with invaluable media time and an opportunity to completely dominate the news cycle to the expense of its rivals. The local rivalries would play out, analysts and commentators would be occupied with the elections and the opposition would struggle to find political events to rival the process. In fact, the opposition will only react to the elections, trying to burst the bubble and inversely making it an even bigger deal. There will be stories of major losses, betrayal, victories, backlashes, fights and embraces that would make side stories that would add to the colour.
The prospect of the whole process going awry also looms large. It could be an exercise whose fallout the party may not recover. It provides an opportunity for the opposition to run interference and plant its moles in the party ranks. It would be damn expensive for the party as well. The party leaders may also not like its outcomes very much. Elections would also create a second batch office holders besides elected leaders that the party leaders may have to deal with and keep satisfied at great cost. Other unforeseen dangers lie waiting as well.
Democracy is neither easy nor clean however and it comes at great cost. It has been compared to making sausages or in our case, preparing matumbo and mitura for a feast. It is often a dirty job that requires hard decisions if great strides are to be made. Jubilee party leaders have the unenviable task and expectation of filling party official seats. It is a task they better leave to the party election process and through it settle local rivalries and manage fall outs before the nominations process which promises to be catastrophic if not approached with caution. Democracy demands it and our political development is in dire need of a rigorous internal democracy within parties. Uhuru Kenyatta can lead the way.