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How MPS arrived at presidential system

By | Jan 25th 2010 | 4 min read
By | January 25th 2010

By Jibril Adan

The Standard can today reveal the genesis of proposal for a pure presidential system of government adopted by the Parliamentary Select Committee on Constitutional Review.

We established the system, which is similar to the US model of government, and which Kenyans will likely vote on at the referendum, was first mooted by Orange Democratic Movement deputy leader and Agriculture Minister William Ruto.

Reliable sources revealed the minister initially made the proposal to an ODM meeting chaired by the Prime minister and party leader Raila Odinga on Wednesday January 13 but the party did not adopt the position.

The meeting was called by ODM after its coalition partner — Party of National Unity — faulted the Revised Harmonised Draft and criticised the Committee of Experts for ‘ignoring’ the wishes of the majority and proposing a hybrid system of government.

At the meeting, Raila is reported to have said ODM would maintain its position to have a government with an executive prime minister.

A statement on the party position read by deputy leader Musalia Mudavadi after the meeting said: "a parliamentary system where government is accountable to the people through Parliament as opposed to an imperial system is a more democratic and transparent system and will cover the diversity of our nation."

During the meeting, Ruto is said to have differed with his colleagues on the system of governance. He is said to have told the meeting Kenyans have been waiting for a new dispensation in governance for the last 20 years, "and it would not make any sense to replace the current mixed system with a similar one".

The minister, who has been at odds with the PM over a number of issues opposed the hybrid system on grounds that there would be no accountability as well as checks and balances.

Ceremonial duties

His views were opposed and it was resolved the party would root for a system where a prime minister will exercise executive powers while the president will have largely ceremonial duties. Mudavadi then read the statement stating ODM’s position.

Ruto then went public with his opposition to the hybrid system and on the following Saturday addressed the public in Kericho where he pitched for a pure presidential system.

At the PSC retreat at the Great Rift Valley Lodge in Naivasha, the ODM party position had not changed.

PNU proposed its system of presidential government where the president and Cabinet will also be MPs.

Several versions of the presidential system were floated. Former Justice Minister Martha Karua and Garsen MP Danson Mungatana were among those who proposed versions of a presidential system of government.

ODM MP Isaac Ruto also proposed a version of parliamentary system. But all the systems did not get majority support and discussions dragged on for more than two hours.

It was at this point that Ruto is said to have moved his version of a pure presidential system. He argued the presidential system fronted by PNU was not different from what exists and that the hybrid system would be unworkable. He proposed a system similar to the US model where the executive and Parliament were delinked.

The proposed system was to be accompanied by a strong devolved government with 18 strong regional governments that can withstand control from the Executive.

The minister also proposed that leader of the majority party in Parliament be called ‘Majority Leader’ while his opposite would be called ‘Minority Leader’. The two leaders would be recognised by the Constitution.

The system was debated and sources said a section of the ODM members kept quiet at the initial stages but contributed after the system got support from the majority.

"PNU side, which has rooted for a presidential system did not hesitate to support Ruto’s proposal, as it looked more presentable to the public," said another confidential source.

When the proposal by Ruto appeared to be gaining support from the majority, a section of the ODM team at the retreat is said to have consulted the PM on telephone. It is believed they made the call as it became clear they would not be able to push through the parliamentary system favoured by the PM.

Kenyans warmly received the news PSC settled for a pure presidential system with checks and balances, but some ODM leaders have given indications it may not have gone down well with some of its bigwigs.

Bigger monster

Immigration Minister Otieno Kajwang has said the system would be "a monster". Mr Kajwang’ argued some in PSC think they are targeting Raila.

"They think that the law is being made for Raila, but they misread the mood in the country because Kenyans think differently and they will come to realise that later," Kajwang’ told The Standard. He warned the pure presidential system will be a bigger monster than the current imperial presidency.

Civil society has asked that adequate checks and balances be put in place to avoid misuse of power.

Initial indications are that the powers of the president and Cabinet would be curtailed in the proposal as they will not sit in Parliament. Clear separation of roles will mean MPs will concentrate on legislation and putting Cabinet under close scrutiny.

Under the proposal, the president’s running mate would become vice-president and the office of the prime minister would be scrapped.

The president will pick ministers from outside Parliament to ensure social services are depoliticised and run by professionals.

Strong regional governments that would receive 20 per cent of the national revenue from the central government will also check the Executive. Under the current system, constituencies receive 2.5 per cent of the revenue through the Constituency Development Fund.

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