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Regional parties demand say on the negotiating table

POLITICS
By Josphat Thiong'o | October 21st 2021

United Progressive Alliance Party Acting Secretary General John Obwocha(Second left) accompanied by Kisii Central MCA Kepher Mogaka(left) with other party supporters in Kisii Town on October 21, 2021. [Edwin Nyarangi,Standard]

The launch of the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) party has lifted the lead on a ploy by politicians to force bigger parties to the negotiating table ahead of the 2022 elections.

The party allegedly linked to Interior Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang’i was unveiled at Kileleshwa, Nairobi, last Friday at a time there is a mad rush to rebrand political parties, change ownership and register new outfits.

The latest trend points to the emergence of regional parties that will most likely determine who clinches power on August 9, 2022 or decide the winner in the event of a re-run.

Deputy President William Ruto and ODM leader Raila Odinga have warned that regional parties will further balkanise the country along tribal lines and give room to the emergence of tribal kingpins.

“This is the Gusii-affiliated party which will form a coalition with ODM or Jubilee in 2022,” read a media invite.  

With less than a year to the polls, the push by top politicians to own political parties is worrying, with some registering new outfits while others are taking over existing ones.

The leaders are changing names of existing parties, their identity and officials. So far, there are 13 political parties that have been renamed and new leadership unveiled.

The Registrar of Political Parties Ann Nderitu confirmed registration of more than 75 political parties while others are in the process.

Sources intimated to The Standard that that the formation and rebranding of smaller parties - which often have a regional support base - is geared towards forcing major parties such as Jubilee Party, ODM, United Democratic Alliance (UDA), Amani National Congress (ANC), Wiper party and Ford Kenya to form a coalition will take over government come the 2022 General Election.

Notably, the regional parties are perceived as 'briefcase parties' or special purposes vehicles.

These new parties however enter into coalitions with the aim to benefit from structured negotiations and MOUs that will see them share out positions among the coalition partners.

In Mt Kenya alone for instance - a region which boasts of 5.5million votes - there are at least 12 regional parties.

They include The New Democrats (TND) party, Chama cha Kazi, The Service Party (TSP), Democratic party, Party of National Unity (PNU), Civic Renewal Party, NARC Kenya, Ubuntu People Forum (UPF) formerly Citizens Convention Party (CCP), Peoples Empowerment Party, Devolution Party of Kenya (DPK-recently formed by Meru Governor Kiraitu Murungi), Usawa Kwa Wote party and the Restore and Build Party of Kenya (associated with former Education Principal Secretary James ole Kiyiapi.)

Through the Mount Kenya Unity Forum, a plethora of the parties have however indicated that they will not be folding in order to join major parties and are demanding a power sharing deal with anyone making inroads into the region,  DP Ruto and Raila.

Other most notable parties include Chama Cha Mashinani (CCM) party led by Isaac Ruto in the Rift Valley, Ford Kenya in Western and Maendeleo Chap Chap party in Eastern.

In the coastal region, two parties have also been formed - Pamoja Alliance (PAA) linked to Kilifi Governor Amason Kingi and Kenya Democracy for Change (KDC).

In North Eastern region, we have Upya associated with the National Treasury Cabinet Secretary Ukur Yattani.

Political and constitutional expert Bobby Mkangi attributes the proliferation of regional parties to the entrenchment of devolution, history and current political trends.

He avers that whereas the Constitution bars creation of regional parties, politicians have found a way to exploit the provision of multi-party democracy by creating parties with the principles of a national party but with a huge regional base.

“The reality is that despite the fact that the national parties have a national appeal, they have a majority base as is the case with ODM whose base is Nyanza and Jubilee whose base is Mt Kenya and the Central region, Wiper- Ukambani and ANC the Western region,” says Mkangi.  

“Devolution also makes our politics very localized and that’s why you go to various counties such as Ukambani and find Wiper is the dominant party," he added.

Mkangi says that leaders have realized they can only reap big by forming regional outfits which then become gatekeepers of the interests of the citizenry of that particular region.

But in order for Kenyans to move above this, he says, they need to focus on creation of parties based on ideologies such economic empowerment and not ethnicity.

National Assembly Speaker Justin Muturi also subscribes to the idea of regional parties based on his sentiments following the formation of the Devolution Party of Kenya Party by Governor Kiraitu Murungi.

Muturi said that regional parties serve a purpose and should therefore not be dismissed.

 “People should not say the formation of such parties is wrong because every party has its base. There is no mistake in the Devolution Party of Kenya having its base in Mt Kenya East,” he said.

However, Ruto is opposed to the formation of regional parties noting that they are likely to "sow politics of discord, hate and divisions which is not good for a country.”

When the DP met Gusii leaders in Kisii a fortnight ago, he claimed that regional parties have no major ideological nor development agenda but are based on bigotry of tribal kingpins.

"...such parties are likely to fracture and polarize the country's fragile social and political fabric," he said.

"There are many political parties in Kenya today who can conduct their general meetings in mother tongue. I dare say those parties are the ones that are taking Kenya backwards, they are planting seeds of ethnicity in our politics,” he added.

Jthiongo@standardmedia.co.ke

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