Registrar of Political Parties, Anne Nderitu, at the KICC, Nairobi, November 2021. [Samson Wire, Standard]

Being less than a year to elections, it is the season of buying and selling political parties. According to the Registrar of Political Parties, as of November 2021 there were 81 fully registered parties and 20 with provisional certificates.

Not all these parties are competitive. Many are little more than speculative briefcase outfits in search of buyers around the time of party nominations.

The high number of political parties reflect the permissiveness of our electoral rules and continued elite misuse of parties as little more than election-year special purpose vehicles.

On paper, it takes little more than 30 days to get a provisional party registration. The most important requirements for permanent registration are that a party should have at least 1,000 members in at least 24 counties, respect the two-thirds gender rule, and comply with the integrity provisions of Chapter Six of the Constitution. Parties cannot be formed based on ethnicity, religion, language, or gender. Most observers would agree that the requirements above are seldom enforced. The vast majority of parties are organised around specific regional or ethnic blocs and have leadership that would fail a “Chapter Six Test.”

Given this reality, should the policy response be stricter enforcement of the Political Parties Act (which would shrink the number of parties) or should we consider how to make the current situation more efficient?

Experience tells us that stricter enforcement is a non-starter. One potential improvement would be to relax the “national character” clause and allow for county-level political parties. County-level parties would still cater to elite bargaining incentives (hawking ethnic vote baskets), while also bringing party activity closer to voters. Currently, political parties scarcely exist outside of their Nairobi offices – hence the need to devolve party membership and mobilisation to the grassroots.

Doing so would also reduce the clutter at the national level, allowing for fewer and potentially stronger parties. Both the national and county governments require strong people-centered political parties to executive their respective mandates.

 -The writer is an Assistant Professor at Georgetown University