The 2010 constitution legislated for Kenya a full presidential system in which the president, who is elected through universal suffrage, serves as head of state and of government and is independent from the legislature.
Semi-presidential systems, on the other hand, accommodate both a president and a prime minister. The president exercises overall executive authority with some degree of executive authority delegated to the prime minister.
In a parliamentary system, the prime minister is the head of executive and also doubles as the leader of the legislature. S/he is usually elected by the national assembly and is answerable to Parliament hence the prime minister derives legitimacy from his or her ability to enjoy the confidence of the legislature. In Africa, over 35 countries, Kenya included, are presidential systems. In continental America, 19 of the 23 sovereign states are presidential systems.
Between 2008 and 2013, within the Grand Coalition government, Kenya enjoyed a semi-presidential system of government in which the president appointed a prime minister and two deputy prime ministers who exercised a measure of delegated executive authority. For a wide range of executive decisions, the president and prime minister had to consult for purposes of arriving at some concurrence.
At the dawn of independence, between 1963 and 1964, Kenya had a parliamentary system in which a prime minister exercised executive authority through the unicameral legislature. He was appointed by a political representative of the British monarch resident in Kenya.
Today, Ethiopia and Mauritius are parliamentary systems while examples of semi-presidential systems in Africa are: Algeria, Angola, Cape Verde, Egypt, Sao Tome and Principe, South Africa, Tanzania and Western Sahara.
In presidential systems, power tends to be centralised within the executive headed by one person. The winner in a presidential election takes it all; he or she appoints the cabinet and other state positions with or without parliamentary approval. Those who lose in elections usually have to “stay in the cold” until the next election especially if, as is the current situation in Kenya since 2010, they cannot vie for both presidential and parliamentary elections. Even if a party’s or coalition of parties’ presidential candidate commanded votes almost equal to those of the winner, they are locked out of state power.
Before 2010, unsuccessful presidential candidates would, if they also won a parliamentary seat, remain in Parliament. The opposition candidate with the highest number of votes would become an influential leader of the opposition.
Gerring, Thacker and Moreno in their article “Are Parliamentary Systems Better?” argue that “Parliamentary systems offer significant advantages over presidential systems … What makes parliamentarism, a more reliable vehicle for good public policy, is its capacity to function as a coordination device … This is because parliamentarism integrates a diversity of views, while providing greater incentives for actors to reach government”.
Within parliamentarism, political parties, whether they represent citizens from particular regions or nationally, negotiate for the citizens within Parliament. The prime minister stays in power to the extent that he or she drives concerns making in the public decisions arrived at. The prime minister defends his or her government literally on each parliamentary day.
Under a presidential system, citizens or the political elites have to routinely negotiate with State House or the office of the president, while in a parliamentary system, negotiations do realistically take place on the floor of Parliament. If a ruling party or coalition loses a majority in the legislature, then the emerging majority forms the next government.
The Bomas Draft constitution of March 15, 2004 provided for a mixed system of government in which the president, elected through a countrywide vote, was the head of state, commander-in-chief of the Kenya Defence Forces, and the chairperson of the national security council.
The prime minister, under the Bomas Draft, was the head of government who was to coordinate the work of ministries and the preparation of legislation and be responsible to Parliament. Further, the prime minister would nominate for appointment two deputy prime ministers and 15-20 ministers, a similar number of deputy ministers and chair Cabinet meetings.
The Bomas Draft executive tended towards introducing more of a parliamentary system than even a semi-presidential system. In 2008, however, the Bomas Draft executive model was abandoned as the country embraced a presidential system with a prime minister who was not head of government.
Why has the clamour for a parliamentary system of government returned?
The first-past-the-post electoral system in which the winner takes it all, regardless of the number of votes garnered by competitors, has been found disruptive especially in the context of an ethnically divided society. Ethnic communities who are not part of the winning team or coalition believe they will be marginalised until the next General Election. Because the winning group usually does not do so decisively, charges of election fraud and pursuant endemic electoral conflict abound. The electoral season also becomes a season of bloodletting and instability. The 2007/2008 electoral season almost ignited a civil war.
There are those who believe an expanded executive outside the offices of the president and deputy president would, with adroit negotiations and balancing, mollify the elite representing community interests. Elections would thus cease to be war.
Ethnic groups who would be represented in government through the proposed offices of the president, the deputy president, the prime minister, two deputy prime ministers and a powerful office of the opposition would feel that their people’s group interests in terms of development opportunities, government jobs, government procurement etc are taken care of. The above offices can be configured through a parliamentary system in which the prime minister is the fulcrum of government as the Bomas Draft sought to achieve.
The writer is the Makueni Governor.