This year’s party nominations reveal three lessons that will determine voters’ views on the main election in August. One, people now believe the myth that party nominations are real elections in the strongholds of the main parties. Two, the country is now divided into concrete party zones; swing areas are quite few. Three, parties are yet to show what their agenda is or what this election is all about.
I would like to discuss each of these lessons in turn and pay attention to what they mean for the real election on August 8.
The myth of party nominations in the strongholds of parties
The view party nominations are the real election in the strongholds of the main political parties is a myth. This is a myth and nominees of both Nasa and Jubilee parties should not be celebrating. Some of the nominees think it is over; they are done with the election because, to them, the nominations marked the beginning and the end of the main journey. In fact, a few days after most of the parties had concluded nominations, two friends asked me whether nominations in the strongholds of the main parties are the real election or not, and when I said they are not, one of them violently disagreed with me.
But I insisted it is unwise to assume you have won the election simply because of winning the nominations in these areas.
Party nominations are like real elections in certain areas. But this is not true of all party strongholds. Looking at the data on how people have voted for parliamentary candidates since 2007 or even the trends in the 2013 General Election, there is evidence those who win nominations sweat hard to win, if they win, the parliamentary seats during the real election. Take Nyeri, for instance, when former President Mwai Kibaki sought re-election on the Party of National Unity (PNU). Two MPs in Nyeri came from the Safina Party of Kenya. They won with big margins against candidates from President Kibaki’s PNU party. And in the constituencies where PNU candidates won, the difference in votes between those who won and those who came second was not much in many instances.
Interestingly, in 2007, Safina Party of Kenya candidates dominated the race for parliamentary seats in central Kenya got the second highest number of votes after the winning candidates in many constituencies.
Nyeri is not the only odd place in this regard. In Homa Bay, a stronghold for the Orange Democratic Movement (ODM), some of those who won on ODM ticket did not have big margins between them and rivals. In ODM areas, the candidates who competed using ODM-friendly parties such as National Rainbow Alliance (NARC) tickets, for instance, gave ODM candidates a run for their money. In many instances, they got, on average, more than 30 per cent of the votes.
The 2013 elections were not different. The National Alliance Party (TNA) won a majority of the seats in central Kenya but it was hard work. Parties such as the Grand National Union (GNU), and Narc, were a threat to politicians in TNA. In a few areas TNA candidates lost to these parties or won by slim margins. Positions of MCA produced a “mix and match” pattern in many of these constituencies.
It was not easy for ODM candidates in the party strongholds too. Some of the parties allied to the Coalition for Reform and Democracy (Cord) such as Ford-Kenya and Wiper fielded their individual candidates. The ODM candidates who won with landslide victory of more than 80 per cent were not that many where friendly parties had their own candidates. As a result, ODM areas ended up having some MPs from these parties in spite of the region being a stronghold of the party.
Independent candidates should worry the nominees
The data does not necessarily support the view that you easily win your parliamentary seat of even that of MCA if you win the nominations. Furthermore, how some candidates won in the nominations will make it difficult for them to win the real election.
A quick review of complaints heard by the Political Parties Disputes Tribunal (PPDT) show the parties in some instances deliberately decided to sabotage the elections they had organised.
In some instances candidates marked their own ballots with good knowledge of election board officials. In other instances, election officials decided to add things incorrectly because they wanted certain candidates to win. Some of those who lost in these nominations will be contesting as independent candidates.
And they are strong candidates. In fact, the nominations were tough in some areas because of the prominent politicians who were competing. The intensity of the competition will show up again when those who were rigged out begin their campaigns for the real election in August.
All this is a pointer to the fact it is not over until it is over in these strongholds. The Nasa and Jubilee nominees for parliamentary, MCA, and even gubernatorial and Woman Representative posts will have to fight hard to win. The view the nominations are the real election in these areas is just a myth. It is a false belief in some constituencies.
Concrete party zones are now in place and swing areas are fewer
The end of nominations and the results simply show nothing much has changed in the country in terms of Jubilee-controlled and opposition controlled areas.
The political map of 2013 and the political alignments of the period have not dramatically changed. The western region, Nyanza, Lower Eastern and the Coast appear are in Nasa as was the case in 2013.
The Central and the Mt. Kenya region in general, and the Rift Valley are coalescing around Jubilee.
The emerging voting blocs are of almost equal size. The swing areas are becoming fewer and fewer every day because the main parties have gathered the much they can. The party nominations clearly showed former swing areas are now strongholds of either of the parties. Northern Kenya groups have formed their own political parties as a platform for bargains. Again some of the counties here are likely to vote in support of Jubilee while others will split their support between Nasa and Jubilee. These blocs point to a possibility of the 2017 election polarising the country and deepening ethnic divisions.
The parties will soon begin mobilising support using “ethnic venom” to concretise these divisions and to fence off rivals from getting to their areas. Worse more, we are yet to see the main candidates finding it easy to campaign in the strongholds of their rivals.
This itself is worrying because it means the tolerance levels are low and that communities have ethnicised their preferences. They have blocked the possibility of listening to rivals.
What are the competing themes for this election?
We always go to an election with a particular theme or competing theme. Our campaigns are usually organised around a certain question. This is what mobilises the voters across the country. And when the messages are conflicting, then we tend to get violent about them. This is what happened in 2007. The opposition was campaigning on narrative of inclusive politics and development.
They argued development and politics would make sense only when everyone is brought on board in sharing the benefits of growth and development. They campaigned on a platform of political inclusion in which everyone feels part of the nation and enjoys the benefits of political power. The ruling government then and PNU campaigned on a platform of economic growth and continuity in development. These were opposing narratives. We went to war.
The 2013 elections had similarly opposition narratives but the results did not lead to violence. There was the narrative of the International Criminal Court (ICC) being biased against African leaders.
The Jubilee Alliance campaigned on a platform of a new nationalism that pitied the west against Africa and Kenyans in particular. The party also campaigned on a platform of modern change — a digital leadership. Cord campaigned on a platform of constitutional and governance reforms. This language was pitied against a new narrative of nationalism.
These were opposing narratives but did not lead to violence. People had confidence in the new institutions under the new Constitution. Former rivals also came together to form the Jubilee alliance. This diffused the ethnic tensions in the areas where electoral violence is always intense.
The August 2017 election, however, lacks a coherent message. Neither the opposition nor the Jubilee Party is coming strong on what they are in the election for.
None of them has spelt a coherent national agenda. And if the agenda is spelt, then it has been lost in the process that led to the nominations. The nominations were themselves devoid of any agenda; they lacked issues. We are then trooping to the polls without a clear national agenda.
Prof karuti Kanyinga is based at the Institute for Development Studies at the University of Nairobi.