This gives you both possibilities and responsibilities. You are less constrained in the choices you make about how to vote, the points you make in committees and the full house. You are not subject to any whip (“You must vote or else”).
You are free, in other words, to act in the interest of your voters. Of course, it must be in the interests of all the people of your constituency or ward, not just those who you think voted for you. You must put the constituents first — but never forgetting the interests of the country, and your county as a whole.
This does not mean, for you or any other elected person, that you simply follow the line that your people want. Ours is not a system of government by referendum or opinion survey. It is a representative and participatory democracy. You should consider that you were elected for your personal qualities—hopefully of intelligence, understanding, ability to form and express a view, and integrity. You should exercise those qualities for the good of the electorate, the county and the country.
You have to work harder than a party member — especially a large-party member. Large party members have an easier time getting their voices heard. You need to strategise. A party can have a division of labour with members focussing on different issues, or having different strengths. Accept that you cannot be an expert on everything. But you can develop new skills — such as an understanding of certain policy areas, or careful analysis of Bills.
In identifying and developing your own contributions and skills, you should bear in mind why you were elected. What did you promise your people? Was it fighting corruption whole-heartedly, or pressing for better schools, was it pushing to ensure that the diversity of Kenya is recognised in public appointments? Whatever it was, it should remain on your agenda. But there will be many other issues you have to deal with once elected.
When expressing views on the committees you wish to join, the fact that you are an independent is relevant. A large-party member can be confident that the party views will be reflected in any committee. You can only be in one or two. Consider not only where your own abilities and knowledge will be most useful, but where the needs of your electorate would best be heard, understood and acted upon.
Standing Orders say that select committees should reflect the membership of house — party or independents. They also speak of the interests of independents being protected. Independents are 3.4 per cent of the National Assembly. They should organise to ensure that their voices are heard in committees. They may not all agree on policies, but they all want to be heard.
Participatory democracy means you must give your electorate, and others, a chance to express their own views on issues. You should help them understand those issues. And you should keep an open mind, prepared to listen, understand their viewpoints and be prepared to express them if they are valid and contribute to the national debate.
If you really want to make an impact, seek the help of like-minded NGOs. You can get help in thinking through issues, drafting Bills. Former legislators may also be prepared to help. Hone your negotiating skills: If there is a close vote, you may be able to get support for your aims in return for your support for a party policy. Develop links with the media, which can amplify your voice.
You are now a state officer: The Constitution imposes various duties on you, most notably under Chapter Six on integrity. “Read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest”.
THE FUTURE OF PARTIES
Parties will not disappear. But we have not had real parties — meaning bodies that mobilise public opinion, organise people with similar views and interests for political activities, provide channels to bring public opinion to bear on the policies of the government and hold it accountable to Parliament or County Assembly and the people, and ensure discipline in the conduct of public affairs. These are the purposes of parties envisaged in the first constitution draft, of 2002.
Independents will actually improve parties: Stimulate them to think and organise better and hopefully, spur the development of real parties, not ethnic fan clubs for individuals.
You have already made an important contribution to democracy. Our best wishes for your future democratic endeavours.