Every election year Kenyans are treated to a circus in the name of party primaries where party owners prop up their favorites for nomination and pretend they were democratically elected. This year will be no different and the signs are already there. Members of the party will cry foul play only to rescind and support a process that clearly lacks integrity. The bold ones move to smaller insignificant parties in the hope that the electorate will keep their eyes on the bull’s eye.
When Jubilee launched the technology based voting system at the primaries there was brief sigh of relief. The smart card was indeed as some pundits have argued, a game-changer. It is supposed to kill double voting or ghost voting. The smart card is indeed the future of restoring integrity in primaries as it streamlines the process and allows members to vote only their choice candidate. But as the Anti-Corruption whistleblower John Githongo once said, “You can’t digitize values.” Some things are beyond technology. It’s a culture problem.
Jubilee Party now appears unsure whether to proceed in this direction. The head of the Secretariat Raphael Tuju announced their National Elections Board will make a decision on the way forward. Why the caution when this was the sure way to achieve free and fair elections? Your guess is as good as mine. Corrupt aspirants and members are pressuring the party to abandon the digital smart cards to allow them have their field day as usual. But the party has already spent a lot in the digital cards and is likely to employ the technology in some areas while voting the old way in more controversial zones. This simply means our problem is the culture of impunity and corruption at this level can’t be defeated by technology alone.
This week, the High Court issued a directive allowing politicians to operate within the old law that allows them to defect 45 days before an election as opposed to the current law that changed the time frame to 120 days before elections. While this is indeed bad news for IEBC that needs to publish list of all party members it speaks volumes about the level of trust our politicians have in their own parties. The matter was brought to court by governors who felt the law limited the period for party-hopping.
While IEBC has every reason to make the court change its ruling we must be alive to the challenges that politicians are facing under cartels and greedy politicians who care little about the will of the people except minting money. And sadly this issue cuts across the political divide. NASA for instance hasn’t even decided on the flag bearer but the cracks are there. The four main parties forming NASA can’t agree on how to field candidates for primaries. Majority of the parties want to go it alone for fear of losing to favorites of the party owners.
The way we structure our political primaries only those close to the party powers have a chance. No wonder women get the shorter hand of the stick during party primaries. The patriarchy system in our party politics is so grounded that chaos rocked a women’s only gathering at Bomas a few days ago that was meant to build support among women. Gender PS rocked the boat after bidding support for the incumbent infuriating other women present who saw her as a betrayer. The phrase women are their own enemies couldn’t have been more right.
It’s pointless for politicians and religious leaders to ask IEBC if it is ready to conduct a free and fair election when rigging takes place at the primaries. Bigger parties Jubilee and NASA have strong presence in Rift Valley, Central and Western, Coast and Eastern respectively. If primaries are shambolic then to wait for free and fair elections in August is to insult our intelligence.
If Party leaders in Kenya are serious about free and fair primaries like they’ve been saying they should first work to institutionalize parties. Make them impossible to dismantle. We can’t have new parties every election year formed only with the intention of giving an individual power and dismantling it when it no longer serves such purposes. Institutionalization of political parties will also see women with substance taking center stage in politics not out of favor with party owners but because they believe in the system and it works.
Nonetheless, the main people who can aid in this process and ensure at the very least that the country gets leaders worth its salt are the electorate. But this can be achieved when we take seriously chapter 6 of our constitution on integrity. We must stop getting excited when people throw us money and demand to know where it is coming from or how they intend to recuperate it. Otherwise we shall continue having leaders without integrity who are only too happy to make money through corrupt deals. Your thoughts?