Why BBI report is a threat to tyranny of numbers in polls

President Uhuru Kenyatta and ODM leader Raila Odinga in a past event.
The proposal for a parliamentary system of government has revived the push for delimitation of boundaries, as the influence of who wins power shifts from tyranny of numbers that decided who would be president to numerical strength in Parliament that would determine who is elected Prime Minister.

Concerned that Mt Kenya region – which has for years banked on its huge population to influence the presidential election – is about to lose that clout, the region’s leaders have vowed to support the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) only if it provides for constituency boundaries review to make their numbers to count.

So urgent is the urge to cash in on the numbers that the region’s MPs have set aside their factional wars in Jubilee to push for this common cause. They want a fresh review of constituency boundaries if they are to back a parliamentary system, where a prime minister is elected by MPs as the Head of Government.

Uhuru succession

Their demand raises the stakes in the Uhuru Kenyatta succession battle, as it would require an amendment of the Constitution, which stipulates that the number of constituencies is 290. This might perhaps explain why those opposed to the BBI are now rallying around this Mt Kenya’s grievance to stall its implementation, given the difficulty to resolve it.

Mt Kenya leaders insist the region was shortchanged during creation of 80 new constituencies in 2012. They argue that the number of constituencies in the region is not proportionate to their population.

At the time, Central and Coast, with five each, got the least number of new constituencies. Rift Valley got 27, Western (10), Nyanza (nine), Nairobi (nine), Eastern (eight) and North Eastern (seven).

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The distribution of the 290 constituencies is as follows: Rift Valley (76), Eastern (44), Nyanza (42), Central (34), Western (33), Coast (26), North Eastern (18) and Nairobi (17).

Yesterday, National Assembly Leader of Majority Aden Duale claimed the MPs were opposed to the system because it would end the region’s dominance.

“To my colleagues from Mt Kenya, Kenya belongs to all of us. Since independence, Central Kenya has dominated the leadership, and we should spread both political and economic dominance to all the communities to create an all-inclusive and stable nation for future generations,” Duale said in a series of tweets on Sunday, a few days after Mt Kenya MPs held a Press conference and vowed to shoot down the proposal.

Senior Counsel Ahmednasir Abdullahi was more critical: “Central Kenya will never accept a parliamentary system that gives their candidates the same chance to be elected PM as candidates from northern Kenya or the Coast. Parliamentary system kills the tyranny of numbers.”

No problem

But Mt Kenya MPs defended their position, saying they had no problem with a parliamentary system of government if every region had the number of MPs proportional to its population. 

“I have no problem with parliamentary system, so long as each constituency carries more or less equal number of people. If parliamentary system is to be adopted, then after census results are published, constituency boundaries should be reviewed to reflect one man one vote. All constituencies should carry the same population weight. You cannot equate Maara with 150,000 Kenyans (60,000 voters) and Garissa Township, with 50,000 Kenyans (10,000 voters),” said Maara MP Kareke Mbiuki.

Equality of votes

Mr Mbiuki added: “If it’s MPs to elect the PM, the equality of votes must be enshrined in the Constitution.”

Nominated Senator Isaac Mwaura said Mt Kenya was highly underrepresented in Parliament, with a constituency like Ruiru having 160,000 voters, while Mbalambala in Garissa, where Duale comes from, has 20,000 voters.

“The national average is 67,000, meaning Ruiru deserves three MPs. A parliamentary system will not account for the 6 million votes from the region. Mt Kenya voters are missing 13 parliamentary seats already. A parliamentary system is rigged against them. Universal suffrage remains our cardinal rule. One man one vote,” Mwaura said.

Mr Mwaura added: “A premier can be appointed like France or Tanzania. Alternatively, we vote for the party and the leader of the party with the highest number of votes becomes president and a proportional number of parliamentary seats be allocated based on the number or votes each party gets, like in South Africa.”

About 40 MPs and Senators drawn from Mt Kenya on Thursday issued what they termed irreducible minimum conditions for backing the BBI report, top on the list being “injustices in representation”. They addressed the media at a function also attended by Agriculture Cabinet Secretary Mwangi Kiunjuri. “We are concerned about the under-representation of our people at all levels compared to the population and the number of voters in the region. Our people are underrepresented. What we want is one-man one-vote,” Ndaragua MP Jeremiah Kioni, who read a statement on their behalf, said.

Yesterday, ODM leader Raila Odinga said: “President Uhuru and I agreed that we need a peaceful country so that our people do not die because of elections. BBI is also aimed at ending corruption. I want to tell you that BBI report is coming. But some people have already started opposing it. How do you oppose what you don’t know? They are opposing it because it will fight corruption.”

National Assembly Minority Whip Junet Mohamed said boundary review rests with the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) and not the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI).

On Mt Kenya leaders’ demands for fair representation, Mr Junet said they were addressing the wrong forum on boundaries review.

Four years

“Those leaders are jumping the gun and addressing the wrong forum. The issue of boundary review is domiciled at the (Independent) Electoral and Boundaries Commission, and not BBI,” said Junet.

IEBC has four years, starting next year, to carry out a review of the names and boundaries of constituencies.

But IEBC cannot interfere with the number of units because the limit of 290 constituencies is set in the Constitution and it would need an amendment to change that.

Population quota

IEBC Chairman Wafula Chebukati has in the past explained that the review can only begin next year, in accordance with the Constitution, which requires boundaries’ delimitation to be undertaken between eight to 12 years.

“The last review was completed in February 2012, and therefore, the earliest time the next review can commence is from March 2020, and the latest time the delimitation exercise can end is 2024,” Chebukati said.

The results of the national census will be key since population quota is a major factor in determining boundaries.

During the last review in 2012, a constituency was defined roughly by a population quota of 133,138.

Duale, who is the Garissa Township MP, added: “If we maintain the presidential system, then, ministers must come from Parliament like the French model and the office of the Leader of Opposition must be anchored in the Constitution.”

Senate Leader of Majority Kipchumba Murkomen sided with Duale, saying the parliamentary system would tame an imperial presidency, but urged for caution.

“What’s more important is to have a process which is less contentious and if possible we can do it through Parliament. What’s more important is for us to wait for a report so that we can look at its contents. However, I agree with Duale that parliamentary system is more uniting, more accountable, it’s less polarising and less pressure to the work of IEBC,” Mr Murkomen said.

Kipkelion West MP Hillary Kosgey defended Mt Kenya MPs. “With the number of votes Mt Kenya has, they are at liberty to express their views. A region with over 6 million votes must have a say on who should govern them and they are justified to express their fears. Let Wanjiku decide at the ballot.”

One person one vote

Machakos Governor Alfred Mutua said a parliamentary system would engender corruption. “We need one-person one-vote system for an executive leader plus expansion of Government for a PM, DPM, etc. Pure parliamentary systems work in Kingdoms. In corrupt Kenya, they would entrench elitism.”

Gatundu South MP Moses Kuria disagreed with Duale, reminding him that he was Leader of Majority courtesy of Mt Kenya vote, and “84 per cent of President Kenyatta’s votes came from Mt Kenya”.

“Don’t be fooled that Duale supports a parliamentary system. He knows that by purporting to support a parliamentary system he infuriates Mt Kenya to the core. And that is how Duale and his master will defeat any change by deploying scare crows,” Mr Kuria said.

Meru Senator Mithika Linturi said Mount Kenya leaders would read the report and where there are compromises to be made, they will.

“We need to read the report first and where there will be any compromise, we shall make them at the right time. We need to have a better system of government where the Cabinet Secretaries are appointed from the elected leaders in parliament,” said Linturi.

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Tyranny of numbersBuilding Bridges InitiativeUhuru succession