Why Two Political Parties in Kenya Will Not Work
In an article entitled why we should have two strong parties, former Isiolo Deputy Governor Mohamed Guleid enumerates various points on why Kenya needs a dual political party system.
He argues that a dual political party system will:
- reduce the number of regional (or ethnic) political parties,
- reduce party hopping and self-interest,
- ensure the perpetuity of political parties based on ideals,
- withstand nomination fallouts,
- and ensure that party decisions are final and binding.
He recommends a two-horse race based on developed democracies like India, USA, and the UK. Mr Guleid argues that this will entrench democratic values:
- by ensuring winners and losers of elections act gracefully,
- because political parties will have ideals beyond the individual members.
Lastly, Mr Mohamed says that all these measures will make Kenya more cohesive and ensure that election officials promote national but not “local and narrow ethnic interests.”
Is a dual political system practical?
I have to say that I agree with (some of the) ideas espoused by Mr Mohamed in his article. They would be favourable for Kenya in the long term and in a collective nature.
Nevertheless, I disagree with his idea of a dual political party system in Kenya.
He dreams of a country with a two-horse race during elections where only two presidential candidates battle each other for the ballot. The losers do not come through the back door to seek power.
The losers retire quietly and wait for the next elections to try their luck at securing political power. They do not struggle to share spoils with the incumbent government.
The major reason I disagree with the idea of a dual political system in Kenya as espoused by Mr Guleid is that, despite it being a good idea, it is not practical, especially now.
Kenya is a developing democracy that is still facing major political hurdles in its political structure. Kenyans sought to address many of these hurdles by promulgating a new constitution in 2010.
Forming and joining political parties is a form of organization that is even the Constitution guarantees. The basis of forming or joining a political party is to feel at home with people of similar political ideas.
Political parties in Kenya are not about issues
The political parties should help the people to express themselves freely and engage in the party activities.
A political party is a means for decision making. It acts as a vehicle for political aspirants and as a means for voters to identify with when making their political decisions such as voting.
Through political parties, people express their views. Also, they can campaign for themselves as aspirants or for their favourable aspirants as members of these parties.
The major hurdle of selling a dual political party system in Kenya and making it prevail by law (de jure) or by practice (de facto) is based on the unpredictable nature of politics in Kenya.
First, if we put the dual political party system into law, it might undermine the Bill of Rights. This applies especially to the political rights (Article 37) that guarantee the right to form, participate and campaign for a political party or cause.
Second, it will destabilize coalition politics where political parties merge to form a formidable alliance. Nevertheless, politicians form a majority of these perpetual political coalitions to consolidate ethnic or tribal numbers and support during elections.
Despite the ethnic or tribal nature of these coalitions, a large section of the public appreciates them as the most likely avenue to guarantee government inclusion.
Ethnicity in Kenyan politics is due to a perpetual power scourge. The ethnic groups feel good in when their own politicians are in power but disenfranchised and marginalized when out of power.
I do not think even a dual political party system can address this power scourge now. This is especially since issue-based politics have also been hard to sell to much of the Kenyan populace.
Will a dual political system address ethnicity politics?
Will the dual political party system reduce the number of regional or ethnic parties? I do not think it will, voluntarily. Rather, it will take us back to the days of pre-independence KANU and KADU, but this time with a different formation.
KANU had predominantly Luo and Kikuyu membership. Communities that felt the influence of the Luo and Kikuyu in KANU was overshadowing the rest of the ethnic communities, formed KADU.
KADU was to cushion the ‘minority; groups from the feeling of disenfranchisement and potential marginalization. The Kalenjin and other predominantly pastoral communities formed KADU. It is only after much persuasion that KADU dissolved to merge with KANU.
Nevertheless, this time around, the five major ethnic groups (Kikuyu, Luhya, Kalenjin, Luo, and Kamba) will determine the formation and their ability to sway the other ethnic groups countrywide (termed as ‘swing votes’).
Therefore, instead of having two political parties with ideals, they will incline towards ethnicity but disguise themselves as idealistic.
If the law forces these communities and the others to merge into two camps, that will not guarantee that party hopping and selfish interests will end. Those aggrieved by the decisions of one camp could still hop over to the other camp.
There is also the potential for an increase in the number of independent candidates, that is, candidates who are not members of any political party.
How a dual political system can work
The dual political party system has worked in developed democracies because they had time to test and prove it.
They have bred a system that consolidates all political philosophies and economic systems into issue-based camps. That is why we have, for example, Republicans and Democrats in the USA and Liberals and Conservatives in the UK.
In Kenya, we have not yet tested or proven the idea of a dual political party system effectively.
We had a largely de facto political dictatorship by KANU since independence up to multi-party democracy in 1992. Thereafter, we have had multiparty and coalition politics, where political parties merge to form one big political force.
Therefore, the idea of a dual political party system in Kenya, albeit a good idea, is not yet ripe. It will only work if we cultivate value and mental change in the people and the political systems in the country.