Why are nominations posing nightmares for the governing Jubilee Party and its emergent rival, the National Super Alliance? First, let us understand what nominations are and what they mean for parties, members, election hopefuls and the political process.
A nomination, also called a primary, is the preliminary process by which a party or coalition picks a candidate for competition to an elective office. Nominations can be carried out through committees, caucuses or elections.
Elections are the preferred democratic choice because they offer prospects for fairness and inclusivity. Committees or caucuses are hotbeds for wheeling and dealing between, by and for party top brass and favoured elites.
Their choices drive and serve exclusivist and parasitic interests and not those of the party’s members. Nominations, therefore, transfer the power of recruiting candidates for main elections from the minority party elite to the majority rank and file.
This gives members ownership of the party and process because they participate in the recruitment of candidates for elections, which is a central role of a political party. However, nomination is a delicate matter. It is supposed to give a party a candidate who will attract the most votes in the election proper while alienating the least number of supporters.
That tells the party high command to ensure members get a candidate who has close ties to the communities that make up the constituencies and understands their aspirations, apprehensions and requirements. But things are never that clear cut in competitions for political power.
Party leaders have valued relatives, friends, financiers and favourites; parties have grandees and loyalists; and there are MCAs, MPs, senators and governors who raise money for the leader. They back him consistently and through thick and thin.
But, on the ground, they may not be the people’s favourites or as popular as their less known, less active or even more endowed rivals. When a party high command cuts out the base and hands nomination certificates to the favoured, that is called a spoils system.
A spoils system will award and reward cliques of party loyalists, funders and stalwarts with nomination certificates and shut out the base and its choice. This system tramples on people’s views, rights and democratic values to promote the interests of the high command.
As evidenced by the Tammany Hall Democratic Party machine of New York, between the 1780s and 1920s, a spoils system breeds corruption. Party top brass become a cartel and control elections and politics. In The Past Lane, the podcast provider of US history powerfully characterises the Tammany nominations as: “Listen to the bosses, keep your job. Listen to your constituents, lose your job”.
Sounds familiar? In the Orange Democratic Movement, it is feared none will beat governors Wycliffe Oparanya, Sospeter Ojaamong, Cyprian Owiti and Hassan Joho, to name but four, to the party’s nomination. Opponents fear the quartet – and their ilk – will be handed certificates by Orange House Tammany-style.
Why would anyone, then, wait to lose? Over in Jubilee, Senator Lenny Kivuti, who intends to run for the Embu gubernatorial seat, decamped to Maendeleo Chap Chap because he does not expect the party to hold free and fair nominations.
Cold-shouldered by party top brass, fleeing Tharaka Nithi Governor Samuel Ragwa declared: “We will defend our seats through Narc Kenya because there is no transparency in Jubilee”. Out of favour at Orange House, former Deputy Speaker Farah Maalim hopped over to the Wiper Democratic Movement. But are their new parties better nominators? Mr Maalim exposes Nasa’s quandary over its primaries: “It is something for which nobody has an answer. We are, however, alive to the dangers of playing into the hands of our opponents if all parties under Nasa were to field candidates”.
Being an amalgam of parties, Nasa should compete against itself first to recruit popular candidates to run against Jubilee’s. It won’t happen. Everybody will run, which is why all are claiming they are being rigged out.
It is why primaries will test Jubilee’s and Nasa’s fidelity to democracy; diligence in large-scale operational and logistical organisation; respect for party values and principles; and resilience. They will test the loyalty and staying power of aspirants and supporters under poll pressures.
If free, fair and well organised nominations will help grow and entrench Kenya’s democracy. If rigged or Tammany-isque, especially in places where nomination guarantees election, they will visit instant and lingering misery on aspirants, supporters and parties. Worse, they will stall the march of democracy.