Why Raila’s push for PM post is causing jitters in Mt Kenya

Opposition leader Raila Odinga at a past event. (File, Standard)
Opposition leader Raila Odinga’s push for constitutional changes to move the country to a pure parliamentary system of government is unsettling Mt Kenya region, just when some of its leaders were warming up to him ahead of the 2022 General Election. 

Raila has been gaining support in the region, especially after his handshake with President Uhuru Kenyatta, but his preferred system of governance is putting him in conflict with the region’s leaders who largely favour a presidential system of governance. 

The former premier has lately appeared to be gaining ground in a region that has never supported his past presidential bid – with Kirinyaga Governor Anne Waiguru recently openly declaring that the region is warming up to his possible candidature in 2022.

Divided region

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His new found unity with the President after the famous handshake had appeared to rekindle memories, among the Central Kenya electorate, of the backing he gave retired President Mwai Kibaki just before the 2002 General Election, when he endeared himself to a point of earning a hero status that prompted a crowd in Nyeri to refer to him as Njamba (hero). 

Now, with Uhuru set to retire, the region lacking an automatic successor, and split between rival Tangatanga - a wing of Jubilee backing Deputy President William Ruto’s presidential bid - and Kieleweke - a rival faction campaigning on the platform of Uhuru - Raila handshake, the ODM leader has the best chance to woo the region.

However, Raila’s crusading for constitutional changes to install a parliamentary system and have elected MPs choose the country’s chief executive, in the form of a Prime Minister, is unsettling the region’s leaders, who have always protested that they were shortchanged during creation of new constituencies.  

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The parliamentary system of government appears not to find favour among Central Kenya leaders, and by extension, residents who feels that it would place them at a disadvantage, given what they see as unfair delimitation of constituencies. 

Gatundu South MP Moses Kuria said Central Kenya would reject any proposal to change the governance of the country to a parliamentary system, as long as the constituencies remain as they are. 

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Backing his argument with figures, Kuria says the region comprising the former Central province, the three counties of upper Eastern, Embu, Tharaka Nithi and Meru, and the neighbouring Laikipia and Nakuru counties would feel cheated in such an arrangement as they do not have constituencies proportionate to their numbers. 

“This is a region that has slightly above 6 million of the country’s 18 million voters, yet when it comes to constituencies, they have only 64 of the 290. It is clearly not tenable to have a parliamentary system with such a glaring injustice. Simply put, a presidential system is here to stay,” he says. 

Nyeri Senator Ephraim Maina says a push for a parliamentary system is one that cannot resonate well with the electorate in Central Kenya, as they feel that the constituencies, as demarcated, disadvantages them from the rest of the country, as many of them have huge populations and even more registered voters compared to other regions. 

Mr Maina, who in 2010, as the Chairman of the Central Kenya Parliamentary Group, had even filed a case in court challenging the delimitation of constituencies, arguing that the region had been short-changed, says unless there is a fresh process of creating constituencies to ensure even representation, then a parliamentary system would not be acceptable.

“As it is now, some constituencies have about 200,000 registered voters, while others have as few as 20,000, yet in Parliament they have an equal vote. This is an abuse of representation and that is why we feel as Central Kenya that a parliamentary system would place us at a disadvantage,” said Maina.

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He said when the country undertook the last delimitation of constituencies, it ignored the recommendation of the Johann Kriegler Commission report, which had called for creation of constituencies based on population.

Ndaragwa MP Jeremiah Kioni argues that the minimum that requires to be done is creating constituencies that are almost equal in terms of population to have a fair share of equality on the vote. 

The legislator, who also chairs the Constitution Implementation and Oversight Committee (CIOC) at National Assembly, however argues that the best form of governance would be a hybrid system, with a Prime Minister appointed by the President and where part of the Executive is from Parliament. 

“We already have this proposal before CIOC, and it is one that I would even lobby my colleagues from Central Kenya to adopt. Otherwise, a pure parliamentary system would not be supported unless we equalise the constituencies,” says Kioni. 

Unnecessary change

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Narc-Kenya Party Leader Martha Karua calls the entire clamour for changes unnecessary, saying Kenyans should be more focused on full implementation of the 2010 Constitution instead. 

“If we are unable to fully implement the Constitution we have, it is needless to even contemplate changing it. I have not seen any need to alter anything in the Constitution,” says Ms Karua. 

With such sentiments from leaders, it therefore appears that Raila’s quest to woo Central Kenya may go up in smoke, as has happened before. 

The huge following he had gained for his support for Kibaki in 2002 polls waned just three years later.

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Raila OdingaMt Kenya region2022 General Election