Democracy, not elite power games, should drive Kenya’s Draft debate
Posted Thursday, November 26 2009 at 18:51
Renowned political scientist Larry Diamond, in Foreign Affairs magazine (April 2008), clustered Kenya together with an emerging axis of democracies at risk. As a way out, he suggests that “struggling democracies must be consolidated so that all levels of society become enduringly committed to democracy as the best form of government and to their country’s constitutional norms and constraints”
In light of this, democracy should be the watchword in constitution-making to avert the risk of state failure. The question remains about the implications of the introduction of the post of Prime Minister, now one of the most contested issues in the recently released Harmonised Draft Constitution, for Kenya’s democracy and long-term stability.
The post of Prime Minister is neither new nor unique to Kenya. The office of the premier has come to exist in democracies and despotic regimes alike, since Cardinal Richelieu of France first bore the title of Prime Minister in 1625.
In many countries, heads of state (monarchs or presidents) have appointed prime ministers either with or without reference to parliament. Prime ministers in Japan and Papua New Guinea have been elected by parliament. In Israel, prime ministers have been directly elected by the people.
Recently, Sweden adopted a system where the Speaker of Parliament and the parliament itself nominate a candidate who is then elected as Prime Minister (statsminister) by an absolute majority of parliamentarians.
Even in Africa, where democracy is teetering or caving in to new undertows of authoritarianism, 35 out of 54 states have prime ministers alongside presidents or monarchs (Swaziland, Lesotho and Morocco). To be sure, many African countries started off at independence as parliamentary democracies with prime ministers.
The Lancaster House constitution of 1963 that ushered Kenya to independence enabled Jomo Kenyatta to become the country’s first Prime Minister as head of Cabinet and chief minister.
Through her governor, the British monarch, Queen Elizabeth, served as Head of State, maintaining the external affairs, defence and internal security dockets with veto powers over all legislations.
But the first Amendment Act of 1964 abolished the office of Prime Minister and the Senate and created the Office of the President as the Head of State and Government in a young republic. As elsewhere in Africa, the rise of one-party and Cold War politics fostered an imperial presidency that emasculated parliament and the Judiciary, blurred the separation of powers and abridged democracy.
The impulse to dismantle the imperial presidency drove the struggle for multi-party democracy from the late 1980s. But the clamour for premiership would only come a decade later as part of elitist wheeling and dealing in the late 2002.
Following the historic victory of President Mwai Kibaki’s National Rainbow Coalition (NARC) over Daniel Moi’s Kanu, the quest for greater democracy was replaced by a push for power sharing between the wrangling ethnic factions in NARC.
A faction aligned to Mr Raila Odinga’s Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) accused President Kibaki of reneging on a pre-election memorandum of understanding (MoU) to allocate the LDP half of the Cabinet positions and appoint Mr Odinga as Prime Minister.
Kibaki’s pundits argued that the creation of the post of a premier would divide the country along ethnic lines.
Lynchpins of power
The struggle for the office of Prime Minister bedevilled the Bomas Draft Constitution in 2004, which re-introduced the office. But the post was dropped by the Wako draft, which was defeated by an LDP-led Orange Movement during the 2005 referendum.
Prime Ministers have proliferated in Africa as lynchpins of power-sharing governments in Cote d’Ivoire, Zimbabwe and Madagascar in the wake of a season of disputed elections, ethnic violence, popular protests and military-backed civilian coups.
In Kenya, the office of the Prime Minister re-emerged as the cornerstone of the National Accord that ended the 2008 post-election mayhem. Kenya’s power-sharing fostered an adversarial climate hostile to democracy, to proper functioning of government and to national integration.
Generally, premierships in Africa have been associated, in popular imaginations, with despotic regimes such as apartheid South Africa and Ian Smith’s Rhodesia, and with political instability.