Developments in ODM bad for democracy

By Moses Kuria

As a country we have come from far in terms of our democratic project. It started after the Second World War when the Africans, tired of exploitation by the white colonial settlers took up arms under the Mau Mau movement, the Land and Freedom Army.

Independence in 1963 was another key milestone in the democratic sojourn. Despite the setback of Daniel arap Moi banning multi-partyism in 1982, in another nine years, we returned back to pluralist politics in 1991.

Whilst there were serious misgivings about the 1992 and 1997 General Elections, the 2002 election was a historic watershed, with an incumbent ruling party not only losing power, but also its candidate conceding defeat without any fuss and the outgoing president handing over the instruments of power to his erstwhile political nemesis, all these without even a school child pointing the finger at another, let alone the country going to war.

Whilst 2007-2008 was clearly a major blot in our democratic project, true to the fortitude, versatility and stamina that makes Kenyans a great people, we quickly came to our feet and senses and overwhelmingly enacted a new constitution that guarantees fundamental rights and freedom, ensures justice for all and elevates Kenya to a democratic status of the same footing with Canada or Norway.

In short, we have come from far and the future looks promising. However, the price of freedom is eternal vigilance. To some people, our two leading political parties PNU and ODM represent everything we would want to forget as a nation.

To others, the two parties are now known global brands. If you ask any decision maker in Johannesburg, London or Washington to name the two political parties in Kenya, they will tell you it is PNU and ODM. In my view, the realities of a de facto bi-party democracy are here with us to stay. If we have the Democrats and Republicans in the US, the Conservatives and Labour in United Kingdom and the African National Congress (ANC) and the Democratic Alliance (DA) in South Africa, it is time we embrace bi-partyism as a political reality in Kenya.

That is why I am very concerned about the troubles facing the Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) lately.

Whereas problems within political parties come with the territory, there are real dangers that the ailments that bedevil ODM may be serious at best and terminally life threatening at worst. Being a key pillar of our emerging bi-party democracy, the demise of ODM may be a serious setback in our democratic sojourn. In this respect, it is an issue that should be of concern to every Kenyan of goodwill.

Other than the fall-out within ODM threatening its very survival, just like PNU the party has some of its heavyweights facing corruption cases. There is also the issue of the ICC with some ODM members alleging betrayal by the party leadership.

Against this backdrop, ODM has called for elections in March. On the surface of it, this looks plausible and courageous. In reality, it is a dangerous banana skin for the orange party. Firstly, the election announcement appears to have been the catalyst for the eventual disintegration of this once veritable political juggernaut. Secondly, the new constitution is clear that public officers cannot vie for party positions. This means that not only will some ODM ministers and members of parliament keep away from the elections, but also that the ODM leadership will never know whose heart is really with the party.

With the bulk of the ODM members of parliament from the Rift Valley, North Eastern and Coast provinces declaring publicly that they have withdrawn support from the party, it is now clear that ODM is a minority party in parliament. This is a ticking time-bomb for our bi-party democracy.

The fuse that it would take to set off this bomb can happen anytime in parliament. It would only take the form of a small tremor, say, a vote of no confidence against the Prime Minister who is the party leader of ODM and a co-principal in the Grand Coalition Government (GCG).

Should that happen, the provisions of the national accord would set in, necessitating that ODM have to provide another Prime Minister.

The shockwaves that such a move would send in our body politic may have serious ramifications. For instance, where would this leave our constitution implementation project? Would a vote of no-confidence necessitate an early General Election? Would this raise anxiety in the country? How would our recovering economy react to this?

Whereas these issues are not within the jurisdiction of anyone other than ODM members, they should be of concern because ODM is an important player in our national life and a key pillar of our bi-party democracy. Further, the shenanigans within ODM will have an effect on the implementation of the new constitution as we head for the General Elections in August next year.

One can only hope that these shenanigans will not bring forward that election date.

The author is the spokesman of the Party for National Unity (PNU). The views expressed here do not represent the position of PNU.

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