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An all-powerful president is dangerous, don't allow it

By Editorial | September 24th 2018
Leader of Majority in Parliament Aden Duale (Courtesy)

The scenes in Parliament last week where the Leader of Majority Aden Duale was captured on live TV shepherding members out of the chambers to torpedo the outcome of a vote on the fInace Bill 2018/19 was a sign of worrying times.

Worst of all, the bungling of Soipan Tuya, the Temporary Speaker on which way the vote had gone coupled with Speaker Justin Muturi's crass attempt to subvert the will of the MPs has left a sour taste in spite of triumph.

What happened on Thursday raises a number of questions: where do the MPs draw the line between party positions and the peoples's position especially in a matter like the imposition of taxes and levies.

Should the MPs abandon the people and acquiesce to the Executive?

And shouldn't it be that even if the executive carried the day, that win ought to be convincing enough? This newspaper recognises that Parliament represents the sovereign will of the people.

Unfortunately, the acts of Mr Duale, Ms Tuya and Mr Muturi sullied that symbolism.

Because whereas Parliament reminded us of the enduring beauty of democracy- the majority win and the minority get heard- the acts of the three reminded us what damage weak institutions like Parliament and parties can do to democracy.

Democracy is about building and preserving a way of life, a culture: it is a social contact between those who govern and the governed; it is about a sense of shared common values and truths and beliefs; it is about the right to demand the best from our leaders. Most importantly, that position of leadership is held in trust of the voters' judgement and vote.

Mr Muturi, Mr Duale and Ms Tuya are guilty of failure to uphold this: Mr Muturi for being seen to advance the agenda of the Executive and muscling  the will of the MPs; Mr Duale and Ms Tuya for blantant cheating.

Yet at the heart of it is a dangerous trend: the rise of an all-powerful presidency.

More than anything else, at the centre of the agitation to change the 1963 Consitution was that it gave so much powers to the presidency without accountability. And because of it, misrule and corruption took root.

Those who led in that clamour didn't just want the system changed. No, they also wanted there to be a clear separation between the three arms of government; the Executive, the Legislation and the Judiciary. Good governace, they rightfully thought, could only be realised with an equilibrium of sorts. A pliant Parliamenrt is the precursor to an executive dictatorship.

Like we witnessed on Thursday (and many times before) when parliament -at behest of the Executive-whimsically passes or changes laws, that balance is upset with dire consequences.

Because we should all dread the return of an imperial presidency, signs that it is making return should worry us.

We saw it long ago: A Jubilee-dominated 11th Parliament harboured the misplaced belief that its numericalstrength- the infamous tyranny of numbers-was enough to ake changes to the laws that took its fancy.

Recall the contentious Security (Amendments) Laws 2014 fashioned to enable the president have a free hand in decidng who is appointed the Inspecor General Police?

It didn't stop there. Through an obliging Parliament, the Jubilee administration waged a relentless war on the media, non-governmental organisations, civil rights groups, the Office of the Auditor General, the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission (EACC) and the judiciary, groups that stood up against its numerous excesses.

On Thursday, it was as if the Executive was picking up from where it had left in 2017. Thankfully, some MPs stepped forward to counter that.

For amid the acrimony and chaos on Thursday, we saw a flicker of hope for our democracy. The rare show of bipartisanship fighting for Wanjiku in spite of the threats from the Mr Muturi and Mr Duake could be a sign of the turning tide.

Indeed, there should be no room for schemes that turn the clock back.

If nothing else, these MPs should grasp the mettle and bring Parliament some modicum of glory by putting the Executive in its rightful place.


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