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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UDM an emerging force in Rift Valley

About a decade ago, Cyrus Jirongo and Kipruto arap Kirwa fell out with President Daniel arap Moi. The two were youthful legislators in the ruling Kenya African National Union (KANU) and felt unappreciated by Moi.

In revenge, and fully aware of Moi’s loathing for multi-party politics, Jirongo and Kirwa founded the United Democratic Movement (UDM). The new party electrified crowds in the Kalenjin heartlands, long considered Moi strongholds. In reality, the duo didn’t say anything new but their open opposition to Moi in his own turf raised eyebrows. UDM soon got backing from other Kalenjin politicians hitting back at Moi.

The government declined to register UDM. Within months, Moi had bought off Jirongo and Kirwa by giving them plum positions in his government. Kalenjin politicians who had joined UDM were later seen in press photographs sharing hearty jokes with the president. After that, UDM became dormant. Until now.

UDM’s rise as a third force in the Rift Valley was sparked by dissatisfaction with electoral nominations in the ODM party. The Kalenjin had thrown their weight wholesomely behind ODM and its presidential candidate, Raila Odinga. They were so fond of Raila that they baptized him, ‘arap Mibey.’

Last November, there was intense competition for the party’s ticket among Kalenjin politicians. By then, it had become clear that whoever was nominated as the ODM candidate would have a walk-over during the General Election. Lots of candidates were disappointed by the chaos of the nomination exercise, with claims of favoritism and intimidation. A few of the candidates were nominated directly from Nairobi. That is when UDM emerged as an alternative political vehicle in the Rift Valley.

Both its founders ran for the discredited 2007 polls in other political parties. Kipruto Kirwa contested the Cherangany seat in President Mwai Kibaki’s Party of National Unity (PNU). Meanwhile, Jirongo ran for his Lugari seat in another self-created party: the Kenya African Democratic Development Union (KADDU).

As stated earlier, the ODM wave in Kalenjin land was too strong and Kirwa was swept out of Cherangany by a new comer. In Lugari, Jirongo associated himself with Raila’s ODM and managed to retake the seat after five years in the cold.

UDM was back in the limelight after the elections. There was a by election in Ainamoi constituency following the murder of its legislator, David Kimutai Too, days after he was sworn into parliament. The ODM command settled on his brother to succeed him, resulting in disquiet among other party functionaries. One of them defected to UDM and ran against the ODM candidate. Campaigning by Eldoret North MP, William Ruto, helped ODM win back the seat.

Now, UDM is exploiting the troubles within ODM over impending party elections and the Mau forest saga. Politicians from the Kipsigis community felt short-changed in cabinet appointments to the giant coalition last April. The late Kipkalya Kones was appointed as Minister for Roads but his death in June robbed the community of a major political personality. None of the current politicians can fill such a high-profile position. However, that hasn’t stopped them from making their discontent obvious.

There is a perception within the community that President Mwai Kibaki had fired many Kalenjin after he took over the presidency from Moi in 2003. ODM capitalized on these sentiments during the 2007 election campaigns and promised to re-appoint senior Kalenjin professionals into government.

By far the greatest reason for Kalenjin supporting ODM was the promise of a Majimbo federal constitution. Majimbo was expected to give the Kalenjin a greater say in the management of land, taxes, minerals and forests within their Rift Valley homeland.

The Kalenjin are unhappy with Prime Minister Raila Odinga’s decision to evict their ethnic compatriots from the Mau forest. The government says that the Mau forest water catchment is being destroyed at a fast rate and could endanger the flow of water into Lake Victoria. The Kalenjin say they have legitimate title deeds to land in the Mau forest.

Deep down though, and something that is not spoken openly, the Kalenjin are unhappy with Raila’s rapprochement with President Kibaki and the Kikuyu community. An announcement that Raila would be anointed as a Kikuyu elder did not amuse ODM supporters. The Kalenjin also believe that thousands of their youths were arrested over post election violence and want them released before they allow the return of internal refugees mostly from the Kikuyu and Kisii ethnic groups.

The manner in which candidates for the Sotik and Bomet by elections were selected also fed the discontent. In Bomet, ODM nominated a widow to the late Kipkalya Kones while in Sotik, the party’s candidate is a sister to the deceased legislator.

As campaigns for this week’s by elections in Bomet and Sotik heat up, Kipsigis politicians are backing candidates from other parties against those sponsored by their own ODM party. In Sotik, Isaac Ruto, who is emerging as a dissident voice within ODM, openly defied Raila and campaigned for a UDM candidate. Observers see the move as an open declaration of war.

With dissatisfaction brewing within ODM in the Rift Valley, the party to watch could by UDM. It’s not clear what agenda the party has but it’s a fact that UDM can no longer be ignored as a protest party.