Independents bracing themselves for major contests

Bolstered by their high numbers, independent candidates are bracing themselves for major contests with nominees from well-established political parties in this year’s General Election.

At 3,752, according to data from the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission, they were the highest category of candidates on May 20. They were closely followed by Jubilee Party’s 1,801 candidates, Orange Democratic Movement (1,289), and Maendeleo Chap Chap Party (911).

They plan to convene a critical meeting in Nairobi on July 7 to forge a common stand on their national agenda and have a coordinated campaign.

The day is associated with the Saba Saba rally, which was first held on July 7, 1990 to push for multiparty democracy in Kenya. The conveners, nationalist politicians Kenneth Matiba and Charles Rubia, who were opposed to one-party rule, were arrested on that day.

Kenya Independents Movement chairman Wanyiri Kihoro, an independent aspirant for the Nyeri parliamentary seat, said they want to bring together independent movement units in all 47 counties. In the long-term, every independent movement will elect officials at the county level, reporting to a Nairobi headquarters.

“The counties will then send delegates to the national convention, where national officials will be elected,” said Mr Kihoro, who is the acting chairman of the national convention.

Just as Mr Matiba, Mr Rubia and others rejected Kanu’s tyranny, today’s independents have that of the two dominant political players, Jubilee and the National Super Alliance, “which have rejected internal democracy” and driven them out, said Mr Kihoro.

‘FORSEEABLE FUTURE’

“That is where we will stay for the foreseeable future, until we control the national and county governments in future.”

Parliament has standing orders and procedures and, looking at the number of the seats, the independents are optimistic they will control the House and, eventually, government. That is provided for in the Constitution.

“With our high number, we have a higher chance of getting more elected members of Parliament, which will then enable us to elect a Speaker who is independent and able to control the presidency,” said Mr Kihoro.

In the event that they fail to clinch the presidency this year, their support to the president of the day will depend on whether he or she has an immediate emergency agenda to arrest the decline of the economy.

However, given the way they are organising themselves, come the next general election it is delegates at the counties who will decide at the national convention who will be their independent presidential candidate. The person would then be supported by all independents to increase their chances of clinching the presidency.

In the next four years, they will work towards building a strong, viable and unassailable movement so that independent candidates will no longer be party nominations losers but persons with a different ideology from that of political parties, who stand independently.

REJECT THEM

The Orange Democratic Movement’s presidential candidate Raila Odinga recently hit out at independents in his Nyanza backyard and rallied his supporters to reject them at the ballot, saying the Orange Democratic Movement, the party that he leads, needed numerical strength in both Houses.

“Independents need to campaign for themselves,” Mr Odinga said during a church service at ACK St Stephen’s Cathedral in Kisumu. “We have never said anywhere that we will campaign for them.”

Some other party leaders have also openly stated that they will not campaign for independents.

But Mr Kihoro said he strongly believed that such comments are made in bad taste as no independent candidate has sought such assistance.

Kiambu Governor William Kabogo, who is leading the Kenya Alliance of Independent Candidates, whose membership is mainly from the Mount Kenya region, has also asked Jubilee nominees to respect the independents and stop linking them to the Opposition or labelling them “rebels”.

“We demand respect from our colleagues in Jubilee Party and they should not fear us,” said Mr Kabogo recently, when he led the first political rally of KAIC at Ihururu Stadium in Tetu, Nyeri County. “Our alliance is campaigning on one agenda of peace; let the voters decide.”

Lawyer Harrison Kinyanjui, however, holds the position that the high number of aspirants, especially independents, has put the IEBC in an awkward position, which calls on it to act efficiently to ensure that the August 8 polls go smoothly.

A POINTER

The controversy following the hotly contested party primaries are a pointer to IEBC’s challenges during the elections.

“Now that so many candidates are vying, it means voters will take longer in the polling booth because they have to go through the overloaded ballot paper before locating their preferred candidates,” Mr Kinyanjui observed. “Where they are supposed to take five minutes, the voter will take 10, and this will mean more voting hours.”

There are places where the IEBC conducted the previous elections in a classroom but, given the many agents for the political party and independent candidates, the commission may be forced to get a larger room. There will be agents, observers, police officers and IEBC officials crowding the classroom.

The IEBC should also urgently hold mock elections to estimate the time a voter will take at the voting booth and other challenges, so as to urgently address them prior to the D-Day, said Mr Kinyanjui, adding that there was equally a need for early civic education.

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