Seven-year presidential term sparks controversy

Deputy President William Ruto with other leaders during an interdenominational prayer service in Suswa, Narok County. [Charles Kimani, DPPS]

Allies of Deputy President William Ruto stepped up their opposition to a referendum, arguing that the proposal for a single seven-year presidential term limit was untenable.

Speaking at a meeting attended by the Deputy President in Eldoret at the weekend, MPs Benjamin Washiali and Margaret Kamar singled out the seven-year term proposal for criticism and backed the current two five-year presidential terms.

The Punguza Mizigo (Constitution of Kenya Amendment) Bill proposes introduction of a single seven-year term presidency.

Opposition leader Raila Odinga’s Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) is among the groups that have backed the seven-year non-renewable presidential term and an executive Prime Minister in their submissions to the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI).

Dr Ruto, however, is on record saying he would oppose any move to change the Constitution to expand the Executive. In February, during an address at Chatham House, London, Ruto dismissed calls for a referendum aimed at creating positions for "selfish leaders."

Personal interest

Ruto warned politicians against using the clamour for constitutional changes for personal interest.   

He said renewed push for a referendum should be people-centered and not aimed at satisfying personal agenda.

Addressing two separate church gatherings in Narok County, Ruto welcomed Punguza Mizigo and Building Bridges Initiative calls to change the Constitution, but cautioned the proponents of both initiatives to be objective and truthful.

"The talk around the referendum should be carried out in an objective manner, devoid of deceit and done for the interest of all Kenyans, not for selfish interests," he said.

Ruto also downplayed claims that the referendum push and the 2022 succession debates would derail Jubilee Party's development agenda.

ODM has supported the seven-year non-renewable term, saying it would take focus away from the presidency, which, it said, had become the trophy for ethnic competition.

A leaked preliminary report attributed to the BBI also supported the proposal. BBI later disowned the report.

Washiali, who is also the National Assembly chief whip, said if passed, the single seven-year term for president proposed in Ekuru Aukot’s Punguza Mizigo Bill would lead to two different elections-one for MPs and governors and another for president.

“I had an intention of supporting Punguza Mizigo, but there is one proposal that I do not agree with. Kenya will be holding many separate elections. This will not reduce our wage bill at all,” said Washiali.

“According to the Punguza Mizigo initiative, when the term of the president comes to an end, Kenyans would be subjected to another round of elections for only one person, when the rest of the leaders have settled down,” he said.

Uasin-Gishu's Senator Kamar said a seven-year single term for president was not suitable for Kenya.

Prof Kamar said a five-year renewable term gave Kenyans the opportunity to deny dictators a second term in office.

“What if one day we elect a leader who turns out to be a dictatorial President? We only want five-year term limits for Kenyan presidents,” said Kamar.

Violent competition

The Third Way Alliance has defended the single seven-year presidential term, arguing that it will end violent competition for presidency, and stop looting by an incumbent fighting to finance reelection campaign.

"The proposed one seven-year term limit will end the “do or die” culture of re-election. There is an established violence trend in all our electoral cycles when the incumbent seeks re-election," the Bill states.

"There is accelerated theft of public money in the last two years of a first term presidency because of the need to finance re-election," it adds.

"One term will also stop the cyclical economic meltdown witnessed during 1992, 1997, 2007, and 2017 elections," the Bill argues.  

Tiaty MP William Kassait Kamket (Kanu) has also sponsored a Bill to amend the Constitution to limit the presidency to a one seven-year term in office.

Over the weekend, Ruto's camp kept up its opposition to the BBI as the task-force wound up public hearings and retreated to compile its report to be submitted to President Uhuru Kenyatta and Raila, who named the team following their March 9, 2018 truce.

Soy MP Caleb Kositany accused the BBI team of pursuing selfish interests. Mr Kositany said it was suspicious that people who supported the 2010 Constitution had changed tune and started calling for changes in the same law.

“The Constitution should be changed based on the views of Kenyans and not because of individual interests. Some of us had suggested we amend the 2010 Constitution and others now calling for changes insisted that we pass it without amendments,” Kositany said.

Uasin-Gishu Woman Representative Gladys Shollei accused the BBI team of wasting time in five-star hotels instead of collecting views from ordinary Kenyans and their leaders.

Mrs Shollei said the BBI task-force should have reviewed the contentious issues raised by Kenyans during the writing of the 2010 Constitution.

“Don’t pretend to go round the country, meeting in five-star hotels and telling us you want to review the Constitution," she said.

Uasin-Gishu Governor Jackson Mandago took issue with the BBI team, claiming it did not take views from leaders in his county.

Mr Mandago said governors were plotting to introduce another referendum campaign that would be dubbed Ugatuzi (devolution) to push for more resources to devolved units.

County governments

“As county governments, we are not on BBI and Punguza Mizigo groups. We are now bringing forth our referendum called Ugatuzi because we have been frustrated by Parliament. Ours will increase resources to counties,” the governor said. 

Separately, National Assembly Majority Leader Aden Duale appeared to break ranks with Ruto's camp, insisting he would support a parliamentary system of government to avoid violence every election year.

“I am going to convince the President and deputy President and membership of Jubilee Party to support the parliamentary system,” he said. 

Separately, Amani National Congress Party leader Musalia Mudavadi has opposed the Punguza Mizigo’s recommendation to reduce the number of constituencies to lower the wage bill.

Speaking at St Mary’s Vokoli Girl’s Secondary School yesterday, the former Deputy Prime Minister said the real burden for Kenyans was theft from public coffers and not the number of constituencies. [Reporting by Stephen Rutto, Abdimalik Hajir, Jack Murima, Timothy Makutoh and Robert Kiplagat]