Very few people can pick Ms Ann Nderitu out in a crowd. She is a largely faceless bureaucrat who hardly ever makes the newspaper headlines. That relative anonymity masks potentially one of the most powerful persons around.
It is likely that even Ms Nderitu does not quite comprehend the awesome power she wields as Kenya hurtles towards a pivotal General Election in eight months.
She has the power of life and death over organisations and individuals intending to participate in the elections.
As leading political figures such as President Uhuru Kenyatta, his estranged Deputy William Ruto, former Prime Minister Raila Odinga and former Vice President Musalia Mudavadi fine-tune their plots and schemes to capture power or influence the electoral outcome, they should be aware that the Office of the Registrar of Political Parties, to employ the official mouthful, will play a crucial role that could aid or scuttle their plans.
The registrar has power over the registration and deregistration of political parties.
No political party can be registered and allowed to field candidates in the elections unless it abides by the laws and procedures overseen by the registrar. Any existing party that falls afoul of the law can with the stroke of a pen be struck off the register.
In this time of political wheeling and dealing towards the alliances in competition next year, any intended coalitions must also abide with rules and procedures superintended by the Registrar.
Ms Nderitu honoured Kenyan editors with her presence at their annual convention at the end of last week.
She used the Kenya Editors’ Guild pow-wow to outline the functions of her office in regard to the constitutional and statute law requirements on formation and management of political parties and their participation in elections.
She cautioned that a good number of parties were at risk of being shut out of the elections — meaning they will not be allowed to field candidates — for being in breach of various rules and regulations.
Warnings are not enough. If Ms Nderitu is not a toothless bulldog, she must apply the law without fear or favour.
When she does that even some of the political outfits expected to be ion contention come August 8, 2022, will be shut out, and with that their hopes of producing the president and forming a government.
They will also not be able to cut meaningful deals for themselves in any pre- or post-election pacts for lack of elected legislators and governors.
Even before she tackles the headache of parties failing to meet basic requirements on holding of regular elections, filing statutory returns, furnishing lists of office bearers and party members, etc, there is the vexing issue of outfits that should never have been allowed to exist in the first place.
In the current jockeying, we have seen all manner of parties pushing blatantly ethnic, regional and sectional policies.
Ms Nderitu must explain why such parties are allowed to operate against the very clear constitutional provisions: ‘A political party shall not be founded on a religious, linguistic, racial, ethnic, gender or regional basis...’
The constitution further provides that every political party have a national character, have democratically-elected officials, and promote and practise democracy through regular, fair and free elections within the party. It is a requirement, also, to subscribe to and observe the code of conduct for political parties.
Parties are also barred by the constitution from advocating hatred on ethnic, regional, religious or sectional grounds, encouraging violence or intimidation against members or opponents, and engaging in bribery or other forms of corruption. I suspect if just a few of those constitutional provisions were fully enforced, there would be no political party in Kenya left standing.
Then we have the Political Parties Act that similarly has the power to silence many of those characters running for President, positioning themselves for running mate, or gunning for Governor, Senate, National Assembly or County Assembly.
The Act provides that a member of a political party who forms or joins another party, publicly advocates for the formation of another party or promotes the interests of another party shall be deemed to have resigned from the previous political party.
The jury may well be out on what happens to an elected representative who resigns from the party that sponsored him or her to vie for office.
But it is one of the slew of rules that Ms Nderitu and Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission chair Wafula Chebukati must put to the test if sanity is to be enforced on our politics.
[email protected]; #MachariaGaitho; www.gaitho.co.ke