Political Party law under threat from politicians

After passing a law regulating the conduct of political parties, Kenyan politicians are now condemning the same law as ‘unconstitutional.’

In the soap opera of Kenya’s leadership, legislators eagerly passed the Political Parties Act in expectation of massive state funding for their parties. To their utter surprise, the Act came with tough new measures designed to instill democratic discipline in an ethnically-charged and violent political environment.

The Act, which came into force on July 1st, makes it illegal to form parties on ethnic, regional, gender or religious lines. Under the new Act, a political party that engages in violence and other electoral offences will be deregistered.

The Political Parties Act states that a member of parliament (MP) who changes allegiance to another party other than that which got him/her elected to parliament is deemed to have resigned. The seat will be declared vacant and fresh elections held with or without a resignation letter from such person.

According to African Press, major political parties are plotting an overthrow of the Political Parties Act which they fear will spell their doom. In a rare show of unity, the Orange Democratic Movement (ODM), Party of National Unity (PNU) and ODM-K have enlisted the support of 78 political parties to subvert implementation of the Act.

The parties are to team up with the Centre for Multi-Party Democracy-Kenya (CMD) to move to court and file a constitutional reference with the aim of declaring the new law unconstitutional.

The requirement that parties be national has been interpreted to mean that the Act is limiting freedom of association by denying those who want to come together as a region to do so.

Medical Services assistant minister Danson Mungatana, who is also the Garsen MP and Narc Kenya organising secretary, took issue with a clause on gender representation in political parties. “We cannot predict and decide for the voters … achieving the quota would amount to influencing elections.”

The Act directs that a party whose officials do not include one-third of either gender, be barred from accessing funds from the exchequer.

With all political parties expected to comply by January 2009, implementing the Act is proving impossible for majority of Kenya’s politicians. Most parties are mere election tools which attract very little loyalty from MPs.

In the last parliament, virtually all MPs elected on NARC, KANU, FORD-People, FORD-Kenya and others began campaigning for alternative parties soon after the 2002 polls. By 2007, President Mwai Kibaki was campaigning for NARC-Kenya even though he did not publicly announce his defection. Prime Minister Raila Odinga, elected through NARC in 2002 had by early 2007 stated his presidential ambitions on an ODM ticket.

None of these people lost their seats even though the laws at the time clearly demanded for fresh elections whenever a legislator changed political parties midway through his/her term. Eventually, Kibaki’s allies formed  the PNU party that he used to vie for the 2007 elections.

At the moment, realignments for the 2012 General Elections are underway. Informal coalitions such as the Grand Opposition, incorporate MPs from PNU, ODM, ODM-Kenya and fringe parties. Martha Karua, elected on the PNU party, has declared her presidential ambitions through NARC-Kenya.

Laikipia East legislator Mwangi Kiunjuri has formed the Grand National Union (GNU) party. MPs from the Meru tribe have expressed the intention to form a political party to represent their ethnic group.

In last week’s by-elections in Sotik and Bomet, ODM’s Isaac Ruto openly campaigned for UDM and KANU candidates. Despite the law, its highly unlikely that anybody will be asking for Ruto’s resignation. If anything, any such punitive step will be labeled as ‘interference’ with Ruto’s ‘democratic rights.’

According to the Act, money allocated to a registered political party from the government shall not be used for paying remuneration, fees, rewards, or any other benefit to a member or supporter of the political party.

Not more than 25% of the money will be used for administrative purposes. Instead, the money will go towards election expenses, civic awareness and in enabling the party shape public opinion.

The Registrar of Political Parties can cancel the registration of a political party found to have engaged in ethnic incitement and acts of violence. Misuse of public funds is another valid ground for deregistration.

Section 34 of the new law states that accounts of every political party shall be audited by the Auditor-General annually and shall be forwarded to Parliament and the Registrar. The reports must be made public at the political parties’ offices.

Each political party must keep a register of its members and a copy of the register be made available to the public at the party’s legally registered offices.

Clearly, the politicians have a lot to fear from a law of their own making.

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With reports from Property Kenya
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