Juma Kwayera: Are major parties on path to doom?

Friday’s announcement by Mr Gideon Moi that he will soon embark on a countrywide tour to revive Kanu has rekindled debate about the role and future of party politics in the country.

Kanu fortunes have been on a steep decline since the re-introduction of pluralism in the country, with representation in Parliament plummeting to 14 from 107 in 1997 when it was on the roll.

The current Parliament is made up of 22 political parties, four fifths of which have less than three members in the House. When Moi embarked on a mission to revamp the independence party, it had support in the Rift Valley, Central Kenya and North Eastern provinces.

However, the party can take solace in the fact that it is not the only one going through a rough patch.

The Democratic Party (DP), which was once associated with President Kibaki, Mr Musikari Kombo’s Ford-Kenya, Ford-Asili, Kenya Social Congress (KSC), the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), Safina, Labour Party of Kenya and Ford People are all in trouble.

Statistics since 1992 when Kenya embraced political pluralism show that while the number of parties has been on the rise, those that had a national outlook have been disintegrating.

Kanu, DP and Ford-Kenya are among the leading casualties.

Former Member of Parliament for Liakipia West, Mr GG Kariuki, blames the Constitution for the electorate’s apathy to party politics.

Regional interests

"Had we succeeded in coming up with a new constitution that addresses the concerns and fears of every Kenyan, political parties would not be in a limbo. Kenya’s independence Constitution is a patchwork of laws that protect the interests of the rich and leave the poor and vulnerable at the mercy of nature," Kariuki, who served in both the Moi and Kibaki administrations, said on Friday.

He says the Constitution does not address the question of national cohesion and as a result the country is on the verge of self-destruction as parties jostle for power and clout.

"No party qualifies to be called a national party. The Party of National Unity (PNU) and the Orange Democratic Movement (ODM), for example, are conglomerations of smaller parties that represent ethnic and regional interests," said Kariuki, who in 1992 was elected to Parliament on a DP ticket.

DP, whose stronghold was Central Province in 2002, was one of the 14 "small" parties that teamed up to form the National Rainbow Coalition alliance that ousted Kanu.

"The Constitution is a package of British colonialism," he said, "which has ensured that the status quo does not change in politics."

He said the disintegration of parties that had national appeal follows a pattern created inadvertently by the Constitution.

The veteran politician is, however, against calls to reduce the number of parties to just two or three to enable ideas instead of tribe take centre-stage.

"Let them come up, compete and die. The law of natural attrition should be allowed to determine the fate of the parties so that everyone feels he has chance to participate in national issues," he said. He said restricting the number of parties by law or constitution has the potential to create a tyrannical Government.

Even before the defeat, Kanu’s fortunes had been dwindling because of what a senior party member described as reluctance to accept reforms from within.

For Prof Ruth Oniang’o, Kanu was bereft of ideas and its imminent death is not a surprise.

"The party has fewer members in Parliament because it refused to apologise for its misdeeds since independence. It balkanised the country into ethnic fiefdoms and when it was handed a resounding defeat in 2002, it should have realised that the electorate was angry with it. The party is on the verge of death," said Oniang’o, a former Kanu nominated MP and shadow Education minister in the Ninth Parliament.

She predicted that the grand old party is destined to become a fringe outfit, or even die completely unless it reorganises itself.

"The problem we have is poor political leadership. I don’t see any serious leader among the crop of leaders we have. When too many parties are sprouting and others dying, it is a reflection of the quality of leadership we have in the country," said Oniang’o.

Narrow ethnic interests

She said: "Party trotting reflects a dearth of leadership, which is mitigated by politicians rooting for narrow ethnic interests."

A casual look at the representation in Parliament shows a growing slump over the years among parties that ruled between 1992 and last year.

In 1997, Kanu had 107 elected members and six nominated lawmakers. This number dropped to 64 elected and four nominated in 2002. Last year, the party failed to field a presidential candidate, but saw its numbers tumble further to 14.

Over the same period, Ford Kenya, which once had support in all eight provinces, waned. In the 1997 General Election, Ford-Kenya was the second most popular party garnering 17 seats. In the last General Election, Ford-Kenya managed only one seat.

DP had 39 elected and two nominated members in Parliament in 1997 but lost its lustre when its chairman, President Kibaki, gave it a wide berth in the last election. It has two members in Parliament.

Narc, which was founded on the eve of the 2002 elections and formed the Government with 125 elected and seven nominated MPs, now has only three elected members.

Asked for comment, former Subukia MP Mr Koigi Wamwere said the parties are not dying but are resizing to fit in their ethnic contexts.

"The smaller parties that had an ethnic appeal have remained virtually the same while those with a national or class outlook have been affected by the changing political landscape. Kanu, DP, Ford-Kenya and Narc were national parties. We are seeing a trend and ethnic identity that these parties are trying to acquire," said Wamwere.

He argued that the slow death of parties is a reminder that the country is headed for self-destruction, "just as the parties are dying or failed to grow out of their ethnic base."

"We must decide now to put aside the national and wear the tribe garb because leaders are averse to the national good. The parties are just reacting to its leadership, which unfortunately inclines towards negative ethnicity," he said.

He posed: "Do we kill the class or national appeal in favour of ethnic organisations? We have seen churches, mosques, the media, and politics acquire a tribal dimension. We must choose to exist together or exist apart."

Communication consultant, Mr James Ohayo, summed shrinking party fortunes as an inevitable end. This is because they promote individual and ethnic agenda at the expense of higher common good.

While the politicians are thriving, he observed, their political parties are declining often because of pathetic delivery on policies and national agenda.

"Were they commercial ventures most of the political parties would be bankrupt today," Ohaya wrote in the countdown to last year’s polls.

He was referring how ethnicity has replaced issue-based politics."

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