President William Ruto has been in office for just about a year, but his allies are concerned he will not be president long enough and are seeking to have the presidential term altered.
Nandi Senator Samson Cherargei submitted a memorandum to the National Dialogue Committee seeking to have the presidential term increased to seven years, from five.
The move, according to pundits, mean that unless there is a clear transition clause to the law after its passing, Ruto could serve for 19 years, including the current five-year term.
Cherargei wants the current two-term limit retained, which would cap a president’s reign to 14 years.
“This enables the president to have good opportunity to form and establish a formidable team to deliver his manifesto. Besides, the Kenya presidential election is always highly profiled as a result of it being conducted within a short period of time thus making it a do-or-die adventure,” the Nandi Senator argues.
His proposal comes months after a failed attempt by Fafi MP Yakub Salah to have the term limit scrapped altogether and the eligibility age capped at 75 years.
At the time, President Ruto dismissed such talk, with his United Democratic Alliance (UDA) party saying it harboured no such plans. That did not stop speculation that the ruling party wanted exactly that.
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“That is a big joke,” said constitutional lawyer Bobby Mkangi, one of the drafters of the Constitution.
Opposition leader Raila Odinga has said, repeatedly, that the Head of State intends to have term limits removed, citing Ruto’s fierce offensive on opposition parties.
“The endgame by Kenya Kwanza in its schemes against Jubilee is to give itself a super majority in Parliament that will enable them to amend the Constitution towards... the possible removal of term limits,” the former prime minister said in May.
The Standard could not establish when Cherargei plans to have his proposal, if adopted, implemented as we could not reach him on phone. We could not independently verify whether he had the blessings of his UDA party.
Extending the presidential term is likely to be a divisive affair in Parliament, where it must have the endorsement of at least two-thirds of the lawmakers before it is subjected to a referendum.
Since the return of pluralism in 1992, Kenya has had the presidential tenure limited to two five-year terms. Framers of the Constitution retained the said provision in order to have Kenya’s democracy thrive.
Mkangi who served as a commissioner in the nine-member Committee of Experts for Constitutional Review that delivered the Constitution explained that unless there are clear transition clauses with regard to the current sitting president, the head of state could begin serving fresh seven-year first term.
“If the clause does not explain properly when such a seven-year term begins, through the Supreme Court, the sitting president could argue his term begins afresh from 2027 for another possible 14 years of two terms,” said Mkangi.
The constitutional lawyer, however, said that considering the history of the country, he does not think Kenyans want a president to serve for more than 10 years, at most.
“Looking at the experiences of other countries that have tried it, will not be so easy to change the term limit, it could breed dictatorship, “ Mkangi said.
He argued that a more “attractive” option would be to have a single seven-year term, but with evaluating mechanisms that would ensure governments delivered on their mandate.
University lecturer Gitile Naituli reads no coincidences in the proposals by Cherargei and Yakub and foresees an attempt to extend the limit.
“Ruto is definitely interested in ruling forever. Tampering with the Constitution will never work and they should be satisfied with what they have and deliver,” Prof Naituli told The Standard.
Governance expert Javas Bigambo faulted Cherargei’s actions, which he argued might have been inspired by the intention to “demonstrate his overzealous support for the president”.
He noted that such attempts in other countries have originated from the presidents themselves or their allies.
“The proposal portrays him as a leader whose priorities are warped. With the current cost of living challenges, would Kenya Kwanza want to burden Kenyans with the cost of a referendum over such an inconsequential matter?” posed Bigambo.
“When the Fafi MP tried it, Kenyans fought it as it was not necessary, impossible and not urgent and the president himself dismissed the proposal. Senator Cherargei is excited by the numbers Kenya Kwanza enjoys in Parliament but he lacks the consciousness to empathise with the plight of Kenyans,” he added.
The dialogue committee chaired jointly by Wiper Leader Kalonzo Musyoka and National Assembly Majority Leader Kimani Ichung’wah will review the memorandum to assess whether it fits in its agenda items.
The public had until Friday to submit memoranda on five agenda items: Electoral justice and related matters, outstanding constitutional matters, fidelity to political parties/coalitions and the law on multiparty democracy, entrenching Funds into the Constitution and the establishment and entrenchment of State offices.
“These are just diversionary tactics and Azimio will not be pulled in that corner. Some issues are genuine but others are meant to cheapen the process,” said Vihiga Senator Godfrey Osotsi.
“The NDC has a specific mandate and extending the presidential term is not one of them. The committee should be wise and submit any matters beyond their mandate to other relevant bodies.”
The Vihiga Senator faulted Kenya Kwanza for pushing constitutional amendments, accusing them of trying to reintroduce the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) document they rejected.
“They promised not to amend even a comma in the Constitution. What changed?” Osotsi posed.
Mkangi said the checking mechanisms could come after three and a half years and would be similar to what we have with the break after five years.
He added, “The US president has more issues on their table, being the leader of the world’s largest economy and the World. If they can deliver on their promises within four years, no one can tell us that it is impossible for a Kenyan president to do so within five years.”