Parliament is a pivotal institution of a genuine constitutional democracy. Parliamentarians are transient. In this regard, they should represent the higher ideals and principles of human existence and well-reasoned decision making with future foresight of the country in mind within a globalised world. The 21st century Parliament must be accountable, accessible, transparent, and truly representative of the aspirations and needs of the people.
Parliament does not govern but oversee the Government and legislate. Therefore it is expected to exercise responsibility and propagate ideals of an institution of responsive, accountable and transparent governance and progressive legislation. Parliament together with the Executive and Judiciary are deemed to serve as the guarantors in their respective roles of the rule of law, the promotion and protection of fundamental human rights and the entrenchment of good governance based on the highest standards of integrity, discipline and accountability. The questions before Kenyans today are: “Has the 10th Kenya Parliament faithfully represented their will, reconciled the conflicting interests and expectations of different groups and communities through inclusive democratic means and legislation?” As the key legislative organ, “Has it measured to the task of enacting laws that can withstand time and adequately serve the country in the rapidly changing world?” As the oversight of Government, “Has the 10th Parliament, without pretense, effectively engaged with the core public issues of a genuine representative of electorate, more accessible and accountable to them, more open and transparent in its procedures, and scrutiny of Government?
It is impossible to ignore the fact that, while an individual Member of Parliament at the constituency level may be respected, Parliament as an institution and politicians as a group do not rate highly in public. This is partly because as an institution, Parliament seems insensitive, remote and inaccessible and also cuts public image of adversarial contestants engaged in verbal jousting, or rows of empty benches or self-serving elite, and more responsive to individual interests. As the curtain falls on the current Parliament, MPs should reflect, individually and collectively, to what degree they have advanced electorate interests and democratic principles of good governance. These have to be assessed through the lens of the following practices and institutions: a guaranteed framework of citizen rights; institutions of representative and accountable Government; an active citizen body or civil society; and a number of mediating institutions between Government and citizens, amongst them political parties. It is important to question whether the current Parliament measured up to ideals of a democratic Parliament whose characteristics can be summarised as follows. Socially and politically representative of the diversity of the people and ensuring equal opportunities and protections for all. Also being open to public scrutiny and transparent in the conduct of its business; involving the public, including the associations and movements of civil society in its work; MPs being accountable to the electorate for their performance in office and integrity of conduct. And effective organisation of business in accordance with democratic values, and the performance of Parliament’s legislative and scrutiny functions in a manner that serves the needs of Kenyans.
Under the Constitution, Kenya only tinkered with the First Past the Post electoral system that has been partly instrumental in creating unaccountable Parliament. Retention of this system was largely informed by narrow individualised political considerations of current MPs. It introduced a pseudo-proportional representation. This ‘new electoral system’ won’t change the rule of the game significantly. Moneybags and preferential treatment by the ‘party owners’ will still largely remain. Also, it does not empower electorate in any meaningful way far from the past.
Garaging from the operations and performance of past Parliaments, including the current, the key issues to assess future Parliament coming out of the ‘new electoral system’ are many. They include fairness between political parties; effective representation of constituents and various social cleavages of the Kenyan society; political integration and inclusion; effective electorate participation; effective Government and parliament accountability; organised effective political parties; and legitimacy.
What is important is how best to guarantee democratic political institutions, protect communities’ interests and provide safeguards for mutual security. Looking at Kenya’s diversity and in the best interest of effective participation and inclusivity, fair representation and improved accountability, and building democratic political parties and Political institutions like Parliament as well as cutting down wage Bill and future focus, the country should adopt a different electoral system in the subsequent elections. I suggest we adopt a system of proportional representation: the Mixed Member Proportional system that is highly proportional. Electors have two votes – one for a political party, and one for a local candidate elected vide single-member district (or constituency). It is most effective for democratic consolidation, provides lower hurdles for smaller parties and ensures representation of specific social and national minority communities historically excluded. Moreover, unlike affirmative action policies, this electoral system does not need to specify and freeze the size of any minority representation, or a process of legal or constitutional amendment, which may well prove contentious. Instead, any group and communities with a grievance will find space of representation.
Further, with proper devolution, it would deepen democracy, guarantee electorate of holding both the party and representative accountable in between the elections and also allow citizens’ effective participation in governance and policymaking. It will provide positive action mechanisms that recognise and institutionalise the claims of certain specific historically marginalised communities like Ilchamus.
The author is Executive Director, International Centre for Policy and Conflict