The Deputy President is permanently between a rock and a hard place. And by Deputy President I do not mean William Ruto. I mean whoever occupies that position under the 2010 Constitution. In the previous dispensation, we did not have a 50 per cent plus one threshold. We had a first past-the-post electoral system, meaning that a presidential candidate had no incentive to look for formidable allies to form a ‘winning coalition.’ Anyone could win the presidential election with 33 per cent of the vote.
Rather than looking for formidable allies, it was easier to block opponents from uniting. For this reason, Jomo Kenyatta and Daniel Moi could settle for the Joseph Murumbis, Josephat Karanjas, and George Saitotis of this world; Deputies with little to no political power. But the 2010 Constitution changed this. Now in this clumsy arrangement, Ruto finds himself oscillating between awkwardness, embarrassment and permanent frustration.
A Deputy President has power, but little authority. There is a difference between the two. The DP’s authority is derived from the Constitution, which institutes and defines the position. But in defining the position of Deputy President, the Constitution makes the DP utterly and completely beholden to the President. Article 147 states that the Deputy President’s role is to be the principal assistant of the president and to deputise for the president in the execution of the Constitution of Kenya 2010.
This is perhaps the most vague role in the whole of Kenya. A worker in an M-Pesa kiosk has more defined roles than Ruto does. To put it bluntly, the DP’s role is to do what the President tells him to. In the absence of that, he is ‘portfolio-less.’
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But when it comes to power, it is the masses that define a Deputy President. Before the election, Uhuru and Ruto sat down, did their math and decided how much each is worth. They then locked the deal in a coalition agreement and deposited it with the Registrar of Political Parties. However, once in office, the reality became different. The co ‘vote-bringer’ became painfully subservient to his partner, more so in their second term.
A Deputy President gets into office as a ‘co-president’ of sorts, but is demoted to principal assistant once he is in office. But all through a Deputy President’s term, his power remains, albeit latently. The voters form an invisible barrier that protects his or her political life. If lucky, a Deputy President is shielded from impeachment by his ‘people’ in the National Assembly and Senate.
But what does this mean for the country? We are condemned to election politics all year, every year. Because of bad politics, we are permanently operating at less than optimum productivity. We are in a perpetual state of political noise and chaos.
Because political marriages are based on attaining 50 per cent plus one, incompatible running mates end up committing to each other. Although things are rocky from the start, they tolerate each other for as long as they can. And then the inevitable ‘seven year itch’ happens, and things begin to crumble.
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It is the person who ends up being the Deputy President that has the short end of the stick- because they have the power, but lack authority. A Deputy President often ends being like a house help who the boss desperately wants to fire, but she is protected by both the in-laws and the villagers.
When Ruto came out to address the nation on Thursday, he had the power but had no authority. That is why his address was meant to be seen, not to be heard. Everything he said had already been said multiple times by those with the authority. He had no announcements or decrees to make. He was purposely and unapologetically verbally redundant.
This was intentional because he did not want us to hear him. But on the other hand, the optics of his address was deliberate and curated. The Deputy President wanted us to see him. He stood in front of an assortment of ceremonial looking flags; he spoke behind a stately lectern reading an official sounding speech.
And the man did what he had to do. He is permanently caught between a rock and a hard place- having power but no authority. And the way things stand; this is the fate of all future Deputy Presidents. The question is, isn’t this model counter-productive, and perhaps even potentially destructive?
- The writer is a PhD candidate in political economy at SMC University. [email protected]
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