Campaign financing rules are the line between elections and auctions
Having delayed implementing the Elections Campaign Financing Act (2013) for eight years, plans maybe underway to kill it altogether. A new amendment bill is before the National Assembly. If adopted in its current form, big business, corrupt cartels, and politicians for hire will have free rein in the 2022 General Elections.
Funerals are not usually informative forums for political analysis. The service for the late Chris Kirubi was different. It offered first-hand insights into the forging of the 2008 Grand Coalition, the short-lived 2013 Sonko-Igathe arranged marriage and the 2018 Kenyatta-Odinga handshake. I suspect political science students are still replaying the service to gather fresh insights for term papers as you read this.
The July Kiambaa by-elections offers a predictive insight into next year’s General Elections. Poor independent voter education contributed to low turn-out especially among the youth. Some even attempted to use their huduma namba cards in place of their voter’s cards. The majority simply could not see the relevance of voting and stayed home. Claims of voter intimidation and bribery were directed at both UDA and Jubilee party candidates and operatives. There were numerous anecdotes of foodstuff and banknotes liberally used to suppress opponent’s votes and incentivise loyalists. David Murathe and other party operatives publicly complained that campaign monies had been stolen by their campaign managers. No significant reports or arrests for theft, bribery and extortion were made, however.
The National Police Service deployed over 5,000 police officers or roughly 1 officer for every 8 people who voted. Managing a single constituency under these conditions is one thing. Now imagine managing six level voting across 290 constituencies without strong campaign financing rules next year.
Unregulated and un-transparent campaign financing is the greatest threat to the credibility of our electoral system. With clear and enforceable rules, political competition is restricted to the wealthy minority. Rather than toxic ethnicity, it is big money that cements this winner takes all high stakes game, fuels electoral violence as well as investment recouping and war chest related electoral corruption.
It is in this this context that all of us need to look at the Jeremiah Kioni and Peter Kaluma sponsored Election Campaign Financing (Amendment) Bill (2021) very closely. Preliminary analysis indicates that the thirteen amendments may decisively weaken the 2013 Act by lifting funding ceilings and not requiring candidates and parties to publicly disclose the source and volume of their campaign financing among other concerns.
Effective campaign financing legislation must set realistic caps on how much can be spent. Parties should publicly disclosure amounts and their sources. Monitoring and regulation must cover the period of the party primaries not just the official campaign period announced by the IEBC. There must be stiff consequences for parties who fail to report accurately or receive large donations without passing through banks or recognised financial institutions.
If a level playing field and the freedom of choice is critical to democracy, we must strengthen, not weaken the 2013 Elections Campaign Financing Act. Tightening election campaign financing rules will reduce the costs of elections for our politicians, decisively reduce electoral violence and corruption. Disabling the 2013 Act further on the other hand will turn next year into auction not an election. For the sake of the country, elected leaders must not choose this path.
This opinion was also published in the Sunday Standard, 1 August 2021