Why coalition governments are susceptible to incompetence

President William Ruto during the signing of Performance Contracts by Cabinet Secretaries, State House, Nairobi. [PCS]

At the top of President Ruto’s political hierarchy of needs is legislative support from the parties that make up Kenya Kwanza. However, it disturbs when under one year, President Ruto publicly decries having more information regarding departments and ministries than those appointed to run them, yet, they (Cabinet and Principal secretaries) are supposed to be his advisers.

Coalition presidentialism is highly susceptible to incompetence unless the head of state is a master of strategic political negotiation. Thus, if Dr Ruto expects competent CSs, PSs, and other top-most civil servants, he must convince his coalition partners to kick patronage out of their choices. It is challenging to duck those who supported one’s party or political campaign when distributing jobs, but that’s the only bitter panacea against incompetence in coalition presidentialism.

One of the milestones Kenya achieved 10 years after multiparty democracy was the discovery of a multiparty coalition before the 2002 General Election. It took effort to come in. The 1992 and 1997 elections literary produced a minority president—a head of state elected by the largest number of votes cast but not by a majority of the electorate. Let me explain. In 1992, President Daniel arap Moi won the elections by 36.35 per cent of the total votes, meaning that a majority, 63.65, per cent did not vote for him.

Similarly, in the 1997 General Election, he won by 40.40 per cent votes, meaning that 59.60 per cent of the voters did not vote for him. In this case, Moi’s era would have ended if there had been a coalition of the runner-up and fringe parties starting in 1992. However, the absence of such a coalition produced a minority president twice after the multiparty democracy. In 2002, when these parties came together and backed Mwai Kibaki, he won the elections by 62.20 per cent of the votes.

Thus, even if the runner-up and the fringe candidates pulled their votes together, they could only afford 37.80 per cent. So, they stood no chance of winning against Kibaki. Therefore, the multiparty coalition culture started in 2002 and eliminated minority presidentialism in Kenya. Further, the 2010 Constitution struck the final nail to the possibility of a minority president by requiring a presidential election re-run unless the would-be head of state garners an irreducible minimum of 50 per cent plus one vote.

However, history has proven that coalition presidentialism is, as a matter of consequence, caught between hard ground and rock. The president may become a puppet of the coalition parties if he chooses to cover up insider weaknesses and incompetence from party appointees. He is damned if he decides to be a micromanager. In his second term, Uhuru Kenyatta experimented with micromanaging the coalitions and wielding his power as head of state. Resultantly, his then deputy president, the second most potent stakeholder in Jubilee Party (a coalition of parties), opted out.

Exposed, Uhuru sought legislative support from Raila Odinga and the opposition. This is a futile approach that leads to breaching coalition agreements. Kicking out coalition partners and ‘hiring’ the opposition as political mercenaries and auxiliaries is politically expensive. Ruto came to power through the Kenya Kwanza coalition, and thus, he is a coalition president. Therefore, on the one hand, there is the opposition; on the other, there are the coalition partners—the opposition can frustrate his efforts while coalition partners can imbue incompetence in his government through their nominees.

There lies the softest underbelly of coalition presidentialism. For example, he has limited control over who the ANC party nominates for an appointment—he can only advice and rely on the goodwill and cooperation of the constituent party leaders. So, shall we, then, excuse incompetence under coalition presidentialism? Far from it! President Ruto must exercise strategic leadership because constitutionally, the buck stops with him.

 Dr Ndonye is a senior lecturer, Department of Mass Communication, Kabarak University