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Opposition authoritarianism’ newest threat to democracy

October 14, 2017 7:00 PM
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The anti-IEBC protests signal the rise of “opposition authoritarianism”. Certainly, authoritarianism is as old as the hills.

What is new is the phenomenon of opposition parties within liberal democracies adopting authoritarian strategies and technologies of hard power (violent protests) to capture power. “Opposition authoritarianism” is the newest threat to democracy.

Opposition is routinely viewed as an emancipatory force against authoritarianism.

For that reason, liberal policies encourage and aid political opposition to regimes considered as “illiberal” or authoritarian.

The rise of opposition autocracy follows the waning of the “third wave” of democracy that swept across Africa from the late 1980s and the ensuing democratic recession.

Post-democratisation debates have drawn attention to the opposition as a “pillar of authoritarian rule,” to borrow William Zartman’s phrase.

The wind in the sails of “opposition authoritarianism” is populism – defined as a political discourse that imagines a struggle between a good and virtuous “people” and a nefarious establishment.

From Hitler to Mussolini and now Trump, populists prey on this polarising thinking to mobilise large numbers of people to gain and hold power.

In Africa, “opposition authoritarianism” is blending with populism and ethnic nationalism in a toxic mix that deepens polarisation, undermines security and haemorrhages fragile economies.

Experts estimate that since the opposition embarked on its street protests, Kenya has lost a total of between $1.5 billion and $2.5 billion (Sh150 billion to Sh250 billion).

The rise of opposition tyranny is also closely linked to the “opposition strategy” that key Western powers and donors have employed to prop up and aid pliable opposition leaders to replace “illiberal” or authoritarian governments or to force them to share power.

Opposition populists have become adept in capturing and weaponising institutions such as courts and electoral management bodies to win power in disputed elections.

The opposition has turned to extreme populism and used coercive power, mainly street protests and veiled threats of “secession” of “pro-Nasa regions” and enforcing the boycott of the fresh election.

It also conducted a campaign of vilification to derail Parliament-led reforms of Kenya’s election architecture.

Yet, reforms of electoral laws and institutions were urgently needed to enable the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) to fully comply with the court’s ruling and to secure future elections.

Opposition stalwarts deride the Election Laws (Amendment Act, 2017, passed by Parliament on October 12, as “controversial.”

On the contrary, there is absolutely nothing “controversial” about the new law.

In its wake, the amended law has empowered IEBC as the bastion of democratic competition.

Broadly, the amended law shields the country from election-related uncertainty and instability.

It also entrenches the rule of law, democracy and good governance as envisioned by the 2010 Constitution.

Underlying the reform of the election architecture is Kenya’s resolve to adhere to universal norms to protect lives, property and the economy.

Further, some alleged that the passing of the laws by Parliament is “irregular.” This is ill-advised and criminally imprudent.

Parliament has the sole mandate and power to pass laws. Its decisions cannot be ill-timed or irregular.

After all, this is not the first time Kenya has changed laws close to an election. In 2012/ 2013, Parliament passed laws as late as January to secure the March 2013 elections.

It is also not the first time Parliament is passing a law in “supersonic” speed.

Indeed, Parliament passed the National Accord and Reconciliation Act (2008) — which created the Office of Prime Minister tailor-made for Raila in the Grand Coalition — in hypersonic speed!

Importantly, the new law defines a fresh election, and the eligible candidates in it. It is now official: All the candidates in the nullified election can run.

The new law also spells out what ought to happen when a candidate in the fresh election withdraws in a written letter (form 24A) to the IEBC.

An eligible candidate for an election may withdraw from the election by notice to the Commission.

Where there are more than two remaining candidates in the election after the withdrawal, the election shall proceed as scheduled.

And where only one candidate remains after the withdrawal, the remaining candidate shall be declared elected forthwith as the President-elect without any election being held.

Kenya’s “opposition authoritarianism” is unveiled in what Nasa demands as “irreducible minimums” before the October 26 election.

They are not what is understood universally as fundamental changes targeting an institution or practice in order to improve it.

Far from seeking in-depth change in the electoral architecture, these demands are vindictive, retributively targeting in a typically ad hominem fashion senior IEBC officers the opposition considers not good enough to do business with!

Since 2007, the Raila wing of Kenya’s opposition has honed its strategies of forcing entire Commissions out of office on unsubstantiated claims.

The entire team of the late Samuel Kivuitu was brusquely disbanded after the December 2007 elections and violent anti-IEBC protests in 2016 disbanded Isaack Hassan’s Commission — seven months to the August 8 elections.

Now, Nasa is baying for the blood of 11 IEBC officials, including Ezra Chiloba, potentially crippling IEBC.

Yet, the Supreme Court was patently clear that none of the IEBC officials was personally responsible for the irregularities that led to the overturning of the election result.

The logic of Nasa’s “irreducible minimums” is political. It seeks to capture institutions, weaponising them in elections.

In reality, this is a sustained war on democracy. To quote Oscar Wilde, it is “the bludgeoning of the people by the people for the people.”


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