22 APRIL 2022
Capital FM (Nairobi)
By Hesbon Hansen Owilla
The party primaries have certainly lived up to their billing as tipping points for the major political parties. All the major political parties are now dealing with the consequences of attracting more than one strong candidate in various positions, especially the gubernatorial. Granted, no political party would wish to have a weak candidate and it does appear that strategic tact is important, given that primaries in this country are open and free for all to participate. Therefore, to avert the likelihood of rival political formations infiltrating to help crush the strong candidates in rival political parties, nominations aftermath are almost always very delicate situations. Most parties look at the bigger picture and how to deal with the consequences without putting the brand reputation of both the party and the respective presidential candidate in jeopardy.
History tells us that politicians in Kenya are sore losers and whichever direction a political party takes, most losers will go hollering about rigging, the political party leaders having preferred candidates or a few people sabotaging the party, and all manner of attacks. By now Kenyans are used to losers in these primaries taking drives along busy streets with supporters, often powered by cheap handouts, roaring and cry for justice. Social media has become the platform where they deposit these footages purporting to cry for justice for the people.
Indeed, primaries are critical in instiling confidence in the people that they have the sovereign power within their political parties to decide who flies the party’s flags. However, the gullibility of the voters and the fact that there is always a moneyed Johnny come lately with little investment in the party and zero loyalty to the party ideals, structures and leadership can come, run around and dish handouts for traction and popularity, means that political parties have to be very strategic and fairly careful not to allow the parties to be overrun by disloyal politicians.
All the big parties and certainly the two coalitions in some areas have gone the consensus route with ODM particularly receiving a lot of attention because it has predominantly gone the consensus and negotiated democracy route.
The idea would be to give the people the power to decide and to allow them to make a public interest choice. This seems to be the popular route by many, but certainly, we have also seen areas where universal suffrage in the primaries has elicited even more rancour and acrimony leaving the party exposed and worse off. Whichever way you look at it, it parties have had to get to a negotiating table to settle on candidates, the universal suffrage route notwithstanding. Critics have opined that the threshold for compromising a political party nomination is so low that sometimes even an outright winner wins in such a way that they leave serious trails of anomalies and evidence of rigging. This certainly tells you that parties are in this intricate space where they must decide whether to have that consensus and roundtable discussions after chaotic primaries, which almost always come with truckloads of damages to the political brand reputation or go straight to the consensus, opinion polling and negotiated democracy and deal with the consequences of announcing a candidate in a civil press conference. The latter raises less storm and the party is almost always in control, especially if the candidates involved come out and explain to their supporters.
Today, many Kenyans associate political party primaries with democracy, yet universal suffrage is just one aspect of deliberative and participatory democracy. The truth is, political parties are in the business of winning power, forming governments, and changing the lives of the people. This very sacrosanct business cannot be traded for pleasing the masses who think universal suffrage serves their interest. In fact, public interest and by extension the interest of citizens who support a political party can only be served once that party wins power and any agile political party would avoid chaotic nominations if by opting for nominations the party itself compromises the overarching objective of winning power and changing lives.
Interestingly, now that the two major political formations are struggling to deal with many big-name politicians angling for the running mate slots, consensus and negotiated democracy is emerging as the way to go. Certainly, it is not just about the numbers, but more about the winning formula and the temperament of the running mate candidate. To situate it appropriately, a running mate position would serve these coalitions and individuals jostling to deputize Baba and Dr. William Ruto only if the selection of whoever is picked leads to victory. But even after the victory what these presidential candidates are currently exercising their minds on is whether the chosen running mate will add value to their presidency and support them in delivering for the people. You see, winning the presidency is great, but having a deputy president who will help you change the lives of Kenyans and build a legacy is definitely the most important factor.
Therefore, someone needs to remind some of these folks that a running mate position is only as good as forming a winning coalition. The crux at this point is to campaign, get the votes, mobilise winning voting blocks and the issue of a running mate will address itself.
Rocking the boat from within and giving ultimatums via proxies and combative lieutenants can only dent the small chances that some of these guys have in slotting in as running mates. One would expect a politician who has talked of unconditional support for Baba, like Kalonzo Musyoka to go out and pull what baba did for President Kibaki in 2002. That would endear him to Baba’s support base which is much more than a running mate in 2022. It would guarantee him a pathway to folklore status beyond Ukambani. Otherwise, the hard stance by his lieutenants will only attract popular jokes on social media like “Kalonzo to run as an independent running mate.” Looking at what is happening in Azimio, one admires the discipline, baring Senator Malala’s periodic outburst, that we see in the Deputy President’s camp. In fact, whereas many are angling, there seems to be less rocking of the coalition from within in the public domain.
Interestingly Kalonzo is not the only one dancing with the populist idea that a few loyalists can make you ascend to the top. In fact, his fervent lieutenants have earned what they want – the positions they are contesting for in their backyards. For other aspirants who have lost primaries or agreed to consensus only to turn back, get a few supporters to call for justice and demand parade some sort of theatre of the absurd starring supporting urging them to go independent, the story is interesting. Supporters are inclined to harvest handouts from a variety of sources, and they would not hesitate to tell anyone to go independent. Their ‘noble’ objective is to finish these aspirants’ political campaign money and once outside the institutional support of a political party, they will invade these politicians’ savings, and before some of they realise, it will be a massive political loss, financial loss, and serious damage political reputation.
The author is a PhD Candidate in Media Studies and Political communication.