Outside Lucy Ndungu’s Nairobi office, the queue of angry aspiring politicians snaked down the stairs, out of the door and into the adjoining beer garden as hundreds lined up to register as independent candidates for Kenya‘s elections.
Ndungu, the country’s registrar of political parties, said unprecedented numbers were registering as independents as political parties raced to process appeals from failed candidates before a May 8 deadline, and her office was getting overwhelmed.
“It is a record number of people and we did not budget for this,” she said, as six police officers kept order while sweating candidates clutching folders of papers jostled for position.
The election takes place on Aug. 8, when veteran opposition politician Raila Odinga is challenging incumbent President Uhuru Kenyatta, and Kenyans will also choose their next parliamentarians and local representatives.
Devolution of some powers to county level under Kenyatta’s presidency, and the associated access to lucrative local budgets and high official salaries, has sparked intense interest in local contests.
That has increased the potential for clashes at county level, leading to fierce disputes over alleged ballot rigging in party primaries.
“Instead of waiting for their appeals (over rigging) to be heard, they are all coming here to register,” Ndungu said.
More than 1,200 people had signed up as independents by Friday evening, she said, a four-fold increase on the previous elections in 2013. Hundreds more were registered on Tuesday.
“The (nomination) process was not fair. They just used ID cards and bussed people in from out of town,” said Martin Muindi, who was registering as an independent after failing to get a party nomination to stand as a member of the county assembly.
In his ward of 12,000 people, at least 20 candidates wanted to represent the county assembly, he said. The position guarantees a minimum of $40,000 per year in a country where the average annual salary is $1,300.
Candidates with party backing are more likely to be elected, but primaries where voters chose party candidates last month were chaotic and sometimes violent. Many races had to be rerun amid widespread claims of rigging.
Local newspapers and television stations reported on Tuesday that Jubilee Party had concluded 107 out of 500 appeals filed, while the opposition Orange Democratic Movement was hearing hundreds.
A government tribunal to which candidates can turn if they are dissatisfied with party decisions said they had received 47 complaints by Tuesday.