By Abdi Hassan
Alex Ndegwa and Wahome Thuku’s exclusive story in The Standard on Friday July 20, focusing on exceptional circumstances that can provide a presidential running mate with a shortcut to State House was an intriguing piece of journalism on top of providing food for thought.
But it sailed too closely to the wind of a negative focus on worst-case scenarios. Indeed, I found their ruminations to be the stuff that conspiracy theories and the darkest plotting are made of.
Nonetheless, half a continent away in Ghana, West Africa, President John Atta Mills died in office on Tuesday this week and was swiftly succeeded by Vice-President John Dramani Mahama.
Not long ago, Nigerian Goodluck Ebele Azikiwe Jonathan came to power upon the death of another ailing Head of State, Umaru Musa Yar’Adua.
So far, so good. Ghana and Nigeria remain intact and thriving. Mills’ death is Ghana’s first experience of a president dying in office. In Kenya we have had one president die in office (Jomo Kenyatta), one retire hale and hearty after a 24-year run (Daniel arap Moi), and one enter office in a wheelchair, neck brace and one leg in plaster (Mwai Kibaki).
The scenario The Standard is looking at has yet to overtake Kenya. True, our Constitution thrusts automatic tenancy at State House in two extreme circumstances upon presidential running mates. And these are circumstances other than elective. In other words, it is perfectly and legally possible for an individual to become President without being popularly elected. But so what?
One can’t live life by contemplating worst-case or default scenarios. If you think hard enough about what could go wrong in this life, you would refuse to leave the house or even your bed. That a person other than the one Kenyans elect at the 11th General Election, the first poll under the new Constitution and the most expensive as well as easily the biggest, ends up wielding power is not a prospect to be relished.
Knowing Kenyan political operatives, such plotting as Ndegwa and Thuku envisage could well be at an advanced stage. If successful, it would be the ultimate ‘Trojan Horse’ maneuver. It would phase out the old Kenyan assassination strategy of “prevention-is-better-than-cure” and replace it with this stealth stealing of the ultimate prize after it has been won.
The feeling is already abroad in this country that the next presidential poll could well be rigged in advance, in high tech sleights-of-hand that would make the Kanu-era electoral frauds or even the 2007-2008 disputed general election look like the difference between analog and digital media.
As Ndegwa and Thuku note, the first exceptional circumstances in which a running mate, who automatically becomes the Deputy President if his or her candidate wins, can end up being the tenant of State House are death of the president-elect before swearing-in, or after the first half of the five-year-term.
The other exceptional circumstance is if the President is impeached, in which case, as in the case of the president-elect dying before being sworn-in, the second-in-command will assume the top office for a 60-day period within which fresh elections must be held.