Political coalitions: What’s different now? by ERIC KIBET

IN SUMMARY

  • A number of parties have coalesced in readiness for next year’s elections
  • We know of the Jubilee Alliance of the parties of Uhuru Kenyatta, William Ruto, and Musalia Mudavadi

 

The day is now behind us. The face of the March 2013 elections is taking shape. December 4 was the deadline for political parties to deposit pre-election coalition pacts with the Registrar of Political Parties.

A number of parties have coalesced in readiness for next year’s elections. We know of the Jubilee Alliance of the parties of Uhuru Kenyatta, William Ruto, and Musalia Mudavadi.

We also know of the Coalition for Reform and Democracy (Cord), which brings together the parties of Kalonzo Musyoka, Raila Odinga and Moses Wetang’ula, among others.

The Kenya National Congress and Party of Action of Peter Kenneth and Raphael Tuju have also formed a pact.

Since the end of Kanu’s 40-year rule in 2002, coalition politics and governments have become the norm.

This has become necessary as a way of ensuring victory in elections, or because of the need to gather political support for the government or, as is the case with the current government, for the sake of peace and stability.

This trend is bound to continue for as long as our politics remains fragmented and ethnic in nature.

Furthermore, the Constitution has set a high threshold to be elected President. A candidate must obtain at least 50 per cent plus one of the total votes cast and at least 25 per cent of the votes cast in at least 24 of the 47 counties.

With the coming of the Political Parties Act, 2011, which attempts to create a legal framework for coalitions, it is important to ask what is different this time.

The much celebrated National Rainbow Coalition (Narc) that brought President Kibaki to power was a product of a largely secret memorandum of understanding.

Scanty details of its contents emerged after the President was alleged to have dishonoured the agreement.

This time round, the law has created a legal framework that recognises political coalitions. This is vital as it gives coalition pacts a legal character.

Past coalitions such as Narc were at best “gentlemen’s” agreements, whose survival depended on the goodwill of the stronger partner.

Second, the requirement to deposit coalition agreements with the registrar has the effect of making their content public.

Although the law does not specifically demand that the contents of coalition agreements be made public, that is the resulting effect.

This is helpful because it will put pressure on partners to honour coalition terms, hence reducing political squabbles.

Third, the Act gives guidelines on the content of coalition agreements. This is crucial because it ensures that parties have self-regulatory mechanisms for coalition affairs.

One characteristic of coalition governments in Kenya has been deep divisions. Ideally, the government should speak “with one voice”, true to the demands of the constitutional doctrine of collective responsibility.

But we have had to contend with bizarre situations where frequently, different wings of the government state contradicting policy positions.

Will the new legal framework for coalition pacts cure this problem? We will have to wait and see.

My bet is, while it will help reduce bickering, coherence in government will not be automatic. It will take political maturity.

A new political culture will have to emerge. Both maturity and the emergence of culture take time.

Mr Kibet is a lecturer at the Riara University Law School. ekibet@riarauniversity.ac.ke

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