Kenya: Chaos in Political Parties Fuelling Independents in Polls

Fear of bungled party nominations, protests against direct party tickets, and a bid to avoid often chaotic party primaries are some of the reasons cited for the ever-increasing number of politicians preferring to run as independent candidates.

Already, 13 independent candidates have expressed interest in the February 18 Nairobi governor by-election, while 20 independent contenders are angling to replace Justus Murunga in Matungu on March 4.

There are three independent candidates in the Kabuchai by-election including Mr Evans Kaikai, backed by Deputy President William Ruto, with 13 other independent hopefuls seeking to win ward by-elections: three in Huruma Ward in Uasin Gishu, two in Hell’s Gate Ward in Nakuru County, five in London ward in Nakuru County, two in Kiamakoma Ward in Kisii County and one in Kitise/Kithuku Ward in Makueni County.

Msambweni by-election

The win by independent candidate Feisal Bader, who was also backed by the DP, in the Msambweni by-election against the Raila Odinga-led Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) has given a boost to those seeking to contest seats without being affiliated to established political parties.

In 2017, a record 4,002 independent candidates, compared to just 350 in 2013, presented themselves for election as non-party hopefuls, a number many analysts say could rise significantly in the 2022 elections.

In fact, some analysts have argued that the independent candidates could be as many as half of the party-backed candidates in the 2022 elections if parties do not address the issues that pushed hopefuls to run as independents.

Chaotic nominations

“The high number of independent candidates was a direct result of Kenya’s chaotic nomination process and the fact that nearly 20 per cent of incumbents and party candidates failed to win their political party nominations. Prohibitions on party hopping, or candidates switching parties after they lost their primary race, contributed to this dynamic,” says an analysis of the 2017 election by the US-based Carter Centre.

The large number of independent candidates in the 2017 elections, said the Carter Centre, contributed to highly contested elections because most of them had been members of the parties they were running against.

“The large number of independents created challenges for parties and aspirants at all levels, as it was difficult for political leaders to support a party candidate running against a former member contesting the same seat as an independent,” the Carter Centre said in its analysis.

If independent candidates were a party, their representation in the National Assembly — 13 — would be the fourth largest after Jubilee, ODM, and Wiper, respectively, beating heavyweights like Musalia Mudavadi’s ANC (12) and Moses Wetang’ula’s Ford Kenya with 10 members.

Of the 13, six were party candidates who did not win their parties’ nomination, but won as independent candidates in regions seen as Jubilee or National Super Alliance (Nasa) strongholds.

These are Mohamed Ali of Nyali, John Paul Mwirigi (MP Igembe South), Meru County MP Kawira Mwangaza, Patrick Wainaina of Thika Town, Turbo’s Janet Sitienei, and Suna West’s Peter Masara.

In the 1,450 wards, independent candidates who won in 2017 were the third largest group — a staggering 109 –only beaten by Jubilee’s 582 MCAs and ODM’s 339.

Governors

Laikipia Governor Ndiritu Murithi and his Isiolo counterpart Mohamed Kuti were elected as independent candidates while Kirinyaga senator Charles Kibiru is flying the independent flag in the Senate.

So big is the idea of independent candidates that Wiper Democratic Movement leader Kalonzo Musyoka has suggested that Dr Ruto be barred from backing them, following Mr Bader’s win in Msambweni.

“For my friend William Ruto, this thing of independent candidates where the president says Jubilee does not field a candidate but you go out and back an independent candidate, you act like a difficult child. The level of trust is diminished,” Mr Musyoka told Citizen TV last week.

In Matungu, those seeking the seat as independent candidates include outgoing Matungu National Government Constituency Development Fund chairman Khamis Athman Wangara, former MP Justus Murunga’s wife Christabel Amunga, their son Eugene Murunga Ambwere, and constituency manager Odanga Mutimba Nashon.

Mr Bernard Wakoli, a former Ford Kenya national youth leader who defected from the party to run for the seat after party leader Moses Wetang’ula announced that the party would not field a candidate in Matungu and instead, support ANC, was also gazetted to contest independently.

Other candidates are Samuel Munyekenye Onyimu, Wilberforce Chitechi Luttah, Notcus Borry Kevin and Stanslaus Kubende, Omoro Seif Mohammed and Maliba Arnold Onyango.

Mr Paul Posho who had warmed up to contest in ODM party primaries also went for the independent candidate ticket after his party picked former MP David Were and gave him a direct ticket for the by-election.

Others running without political parties are Nandwere Valentine Wesonga, Atoko Gregory Lisamadi, Shikunyi Dominic Mwitakho, Watako Daniel Mola, Kongoti Ronald Anzelimo, Sakani Juma Muhammed, and Kong’ani Ernest Akeko.

Mr Kubende and Mr Kongoti were expecting the ANC party to subject them to party nominations but felt let down when the party picked Mr Peter Nabulindo.

With the disappointments by big political parties, the Ruto financing factor has driven most aspirants to vie as independents with hopes that the DP will give them money to use in the campaigns.

This has given rise to a conflict among Ruto allies in Kakamega County pitting former Senator Boni Khalwale, former Sports Minister Rashid Echesa, and Mumias East MP Benjamin Washiali.

Dr Khalwale has settled on Mr Omoro Seif Mohammed who unsuccessfully contested for the Kholera Ward seat in 2017.

Mr Washiali is backing Mr Khamis Athman Wangara, who served with the late Murunga as the NG-CDF committee chairman while Mr Echesa has picked Mr Alex Lanya Wamukoya, a contractor.

palangat@ke.nationmedia.com, smakokha@ke.nationmedia.com

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