The establishment of the Office of the Registrar of Political Parties dates back to 1952 when Societies Ordinance became the legal regime that governed political parties. This law came into operation at the beginning of the declaration of the state of emergency by the colonial authorities in Kenya. Like all other ordinances in 1968, this legislation was transformed into an Act of parliament without even the slightest alteration to its provisions becoming the Societies Act (Cap.108) which provided for the registration of societies.
The administration of the societies under the aforementioned Act was vested under the Registrar of Societies. Political parties were therefore registered under this legislation with the same legal status as other organizations such as funeral clubs, professional associations, welfare societies, women groups, among others. The Act governed societies generally treating political parties as mere societies despite the unique role they played in electoral and government activities. This made the then legal framework generally weak and ineffective.
Political parties are essential for politics in general and the existence and operation of democracy. However, it was considered that the existence of political parties had to be regulated specifically by legislation. On this basis, the situation upon which political parties were regulated like any other society was untenable. It is against this back drop that a number of national Policy Documents and Institutional Reports continued to provide for the need to establish a formal regulation for political parties in Kenya. These were attempts to address this weakness by proposing a comprehensive and independent legal framework to specifically regulate the registration, management and funding of Political Parties.
Prior to the enactment of the Political Parties Act, 2007, parties were formed merely to serve as vehicles for elections. The parties lacked an identifiable party membership. In the year 2007, anyone who had a voter’s card could participate in the nominations for all political parties in the constituency. This was the period that parties had also been historically aligned to the seven or eight numerically dominant ethnic groupings. These challenges resulted into a disintegration of trust between political parties and the Election Administration as was identified by the Kriegler Report following disputed presidential election results in December 2007.
Consequently, the Political parties Act was enacted in 2007 with the object of providing for the registration, regulation and funding of political parties and matters incidental thereto. The Political Parties Act (PPA) came into force on 1 July 2008 that aimed to address some of the problems inherent in political parties. This law also established an office of the Registrar of Political Parties, as an office within the Electoral Commission of Kenya (ECK). The Commission immediately set up a Department of Political Parties and appointed a Registrar vide Kenya Gazette Notice No. 9202 of 25th September 2008 under the provisions of Section 3 of the Political Parties Act, 2007.
Following the disbandment of the ECK, the Political Parties Office headed by the Registrar was retained by the Constitutional Amendment Act, 2008, Section 41(15). The amendment saved the Registrar as a person while other members of staff were deployed to the mainstream civil service. The Registrar sought authority of the then Permanent Secretary, Ministry of State for Public Service in 2009, to redeploy former members of staff in the Department of Political Parties of the defunct ECK to support the implementation of the provisions of the Political Parties Act, 2007.
The Permanent Secretary in the then Ministry of State for Public service deployed/seconded senior staff to help build capacity of the office. Consequently, an interim staff establishment for the ORPP was approved by the Ministry as a stop gap measure, in the same year. A team was then constituted in July, 2009 to undertake a comprehensive analysis of functional areas and determine appropriate structure, together with the optimal staffing levels and required skills. The Interim Independent Electoral Commission then passed a resolution in August, 2010 that made Office of the Registrar become a Directorate within the Commission.
It is acknowledged that the constitution has filled a major lacuna that had long prevented the realization of fundamental reforms. The Constitution of Kenya 2010 provided the legal basis to consolidate the gains achieved by the former Political Parties Act, 2007. The quest for an independent Office of the Registrar of Political Parties (ORPP) was given impetus by the implementation of Chapter 15, Article 249 of the Constitution.
The Political Parties Act, 2011 consequently established the Office of the Registrar of Political Parties under as an autonomous state office within the meaning of Article 260 of the Constitution. It is a body corporate with perpetual succession and a seal and which shall be capable of suing and being sued in its corporate name. Being an independent body corporate with perpetual succession, the strategic purpose of the ORPP is to promote multi-party democracy in Kenya through effective regulation of political parties in accordance with the Constitution and the rule of law.