Rise in political party defections as Kenyan elections draw near

Ford Kenya party leader Moses Wetang’ula (L), ANC’s Musalia Mudavadi and UDA leader, Deputy President William Ruto (R), formed a coalition in January. PHOTO | FILE

Close to half of Kenya’s members of parliament are expected to defect to new political parties as they seek re-election in the upcoming August polls.

Ahead of the March 26 deadline for parties to submit membership lists to the Registrar of Political Parties, about 180 members of the National Assembly and the Senate had publicly shifted loyalty from those that sponsored them for the 2017 election, with the number expected to rise.

There are 416 members in the country’s two-chamber national parliament, including those nominated to represent special interest groups such as the youth, women and people living with disability.

The party exodus hasn’t spared the devolved governments either, with at least 15 out of 26 first-term County governors who are due for re-election this year having changed party affiliations.

Under the new law enacted in February, aspirants for the various elective seats must confirm membership of a party by March 26 to be eligible for the party primaries in April.

The law allows those with no political party affiliations to contest as independent candidates. Many of the politicians defecting to new parties see the alternative tickets as offering the best chance of winning. In addition, some do not trust their parties to conduct fair primaries. The seasonal defections show the country’s struggles with multiparty democracy. No president has vied or defended his seat using the same party or coalition in the past four election cycles.

Kenyans will be voting in the seventh election in 30 years since the reintroduction of a multiparty political system. The country had been declared a one-party state in 1982. But, over the years, the political parties that have emerged just for the electioneering period have tended to be weak in the absence of compelling values, such as the free market and socialist ideologies.

The top four parties in the 1992 general election — Kanu, Ford Kenya, Ford Asili and Democratic Party — are a pale shadow of their former selves.Kanu, the party of independence, and which won 100 parliamentary seats in 1992 under then president Daniel arap Moi, currently has only 10 seats in an expanded National Assembly. Ford-Kenya is the only other party from that generation, although it has seen its numbers dwindle from 31 parliamentary seats in 1992 to 12 currently.

Political parties’ influence over the rank and file in Kenya often pales in comparison to that of their founders, mostly charismatic personalities with cult-like following in their bases, mostly the country’s big five ethnic communities.

More recently, political parties have also found themselves struggling for identity, with the rise of coalitions – largely ethnic alliances hurriedly assembled as special purpose vehicles for the election.

The majority of the current defectors are shifting loyalties to either the Azimio la Umoja coalition associated with President Uhuru Kenyatta and his preferred successor, Raila Odinga, or the Kenya Kwanza Alliance led by Deputy President William Ruto.

The two coalitions have been assembled in just the past two months.

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