Why defecting members must seek fresh mandate

Members of Parliament

If the Registrar of Political Parties and the Political Parties Dispute Resolution Tribunal were to strictly enforce party constitutions, democratic practice and hygiene will improve.

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

Every Kenyan is guaranteed the freedoms of expression and association and is free to make political choices, assemble, demonstrate and picket.

There are, however, rules that make the enjoyment of rights possible for all Kenyans. For instance, we notify the police service of an intended demonstration to avoid having more than one group demonstrating on the same street at the same time. 

And here is another rule. Once you cross the floor after being elected, you must seek a fresh mandate.

Democracy works better when politics is issue-based. The citizens vote for a political party because they believe that the platform promoted by that party during election campaigns will make their lives better. Parties in turn develop manifestos in response to what the citizens identify as the key issues affecting them.

At the individual level, an MP is elected based on his or her written or verbal manifesto. 

Once in power, the political party turns the manifesto into a programme of action by the government. When not in power, opposition political parties and their members are expected to hold the government to account.

In addition, because the Constitution transferred significant budget-making power to Parliament and county assemblies, opposition members can directly influence the items on the budget. And as members of county assemblies have now threatened to do, they can withhold budget approval altogether!

In the last general election, Azimio promised a 10-point agenda, with social support and universal health as top priorities. Branded Sh6,000 monthly social protection stipend and Babacare respectively, these policy promises sought to improve the lives of Kenyans.

The social protection stipend is a necessary response, particularly given failing real incomes and high unemployment rates. Universal health is a necessity and a widely accepted development goal.

These are some of the goals that Azimio coalition MPs are expected to pursue. 

Defecting or crossing the floor undermines the development of issue-based politics. It implies a personalised approach, driven by individual interests.

Personal considerations 

The practice of “buying out” opposition MPs with personal considerations and development projects was rife in the 90s. The Constitution of Kenya 2010 tried to cure this problem by transferring to Parliament budget-making powers. The aim was to make resource allocation more democratic and equitable.

No longer would the executive use resource allocation to blackmail regions, constituencies or their elected representatives, into supporting it. Many MPs, however, seem unaware of their power. They prefer instead to lick the boots of the executive as they seek “development”.

Another malady promoting tumbo politics is the complete lack of party discipline. Once elected, members abandon their political parties, and campaign promises in search of personal benefit. The Jubilee “rebels”, for example, have publicly stated that they are unhappy because they did not receive more seats in parliamentary committees, and not “a single chairmanship”.

Political parties have sought to cure this malady by tightening membership rules within their constitutions. Article 6 of the Jubilee Party constitution provides that one shall cease being a member immediately he or she associates with or promotes the policies of another party.

Within the parliamentary party, enforcement is through whipping/de-whipping, which refers to the conferment or removal of roles and appointments, such as committee chairmanships. 

In the current Parliament, the Speakers of both Houses have had to contend with the removal of opposition whips. In strict conduct of Parliament, however, it should be a straightforward party issue. The fact that undisciplined or errant members can seek the Speaker’s protection completely undermines party discipline and brings the house into disrepute.

If the Registrar of Political Parties and the Political Parties Dispute Resolution Tribunal were to strictly enforce party constitutions, democratic practice and hygiene will improve.

When a member defects, they have to seek a fresh mandate. In the 60s, when members left Kanu to form KPU, they went back to the electorate. When members left Ford Kenya for NDP, they went back to the electorate. When members left the Democratic Party for Kanu, they went to by-elections.

@NdirituMuriithi is an economist