WARIGI: These independents may be more of hot air than actual substance

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By GITAU WARIGI
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Everybody is getting themselves in a twist over independent candidates.

The independents themselves are making wildly unrealistic predictions about their chances.

I am not sure about the extent of voter apathy they can influence if they are denied the level playing field they demand from political parties.

Their claims sound exaggerated.

Still, the independents threaten to destabilise the existing political party system in unpredictable ways.

The way to deal with that is not to demonise them but to navigate around them in a smart manner.

Raila Odinga’s attack on them in Rarieda a week ago was rash. President Kenyatta’s more measured handling of the group is comparatively prudent.

You don’t want to open up too many battlefronts with people who are not your primary antagonists.

Of course, party-sponsored candidates running for MCA, parliamentary and gubernatorial positions see the picture very differently.

They have a vested interest in taking a hard line toward the independents challenging them.

Presidential candidates who the independents are falling over to align themselves with are not obliged to show the same hostility.

The independents will certainly cause upsets in swing districts and in areas where an entrenched party gave out tickets irregularly to candidates who are unpopular, or those who had the money to buy them.

But they will be of limited consequence in the strongholds of the Big Parties when it comes to delivering — or denying — the presidential vote.

You would have to be an extraordinarily strong independent candidate to expect that your fate will determine the direction of the presidential vote in places like Kiambu or Siaya.

There is little past evidence from these Jubilee and ODM strongholds of voter apathy arising from a parliamentary or gubernatorial defector who has been mistreated by his previous party.

What normally happens is that the voters will directly punish the candidate perceived to have been the unfair beneficiary of the dominant party’s nomination ticket.

Otherwise you can bet the percentages of voter turnout in the party strongholds are going to be as high as they were in 2013.

The independents fall in three distinct categories. One, there are the genuine, principled independents like Miguna Miguna in Nairobi who have stood up for what they believe in.

The other two categories are casualties of the shoddy primaries, the first set being those who were victims of blatant rigging.

Like Paul Otuoma in Busia, they were left with no choice but to go independent.  
 The majority of the 4,000-odd independents consist of losers who found in the untidy party primaries an excuse to persist with their wobbly candidacies.

They want to pretend the nominations should have been conducted with the electoral precision of Swiss political parties.

Bruised egos are what is driving them, and the very Kenyan malaise where nobody accepts defeat.

First and foremost, the Big Parties are worried of independents because they will deprive them of seats in Parliament.

There are two other reasons the independents have correctly cited that explain the opposition against them.

One is political party funding given out by the State, which is pegged on the overall share of the vote a party wins and its number of parliamentary seats.

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The other is also tied to funding, in this case the monthly contributions individual MPs make to their parties.

The less the number of MPs, the less the tithes.

Yet on a broad political sweep, I don’t see any immediate, mortal danger to the established parties.

An independent elected in Homa Bay will have no leeway but to tow ODM’s line on key matters.

The same will be the case with an independent elected in Thika when it comes to voting with Jubilee in Parliament.

If our laws were applied as they should, these independents sucking up to party presidential candidates would probably be disqualified.

I am not sure an independent is at liberty to campaign for a candidate affiliated to a political party

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Many Jubilee nomination losers have blamed their loss on the Deputy President. Sure, he seems to have supplanted the President in the running of the coalition but, to me, he lacks the sophistication to pull off an operation of this scope.

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