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ELECTION 2022

Thick line between parliamentary and presidential set up

NAIROBI
By Gerald Kithinji | Sep 29th 2019 | 4 min read
Building Bridges Initiative chairman Yusuf Haji (left), vice-chair Adams Oloo and the task force secretary Paul Mwangi address the media in Nairobi. [Collins Kweyu, Standard]

It is possible that those people rooting for a parliamentary system of government are unconsciously living in the past.

They are actually searching for a system with such legendary figures as emperors, kings, queens, governor generals or the Yang di-Pertuan Agong as head of state.

It is not surprising though as we were ruled under the same system from 1920 until 1964.

Modern countries ruled by these monarchs or sovereigns, rulers or even potentates, are less than 45 -- the most well-known being the UK currently headed by Queen Elizabeth II.

Elizabeth II also serves as the queen or head of state or sovereign of the Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Barbados, Belize, Jamaica, Jersey, Papua New Guinea, St Kitts & Nevis, St Vincent & the Grenadines, Samoa, Antigua and Barbuda, Bahamas and Tuvalu.

She is represented in those realms by a governor general or lieutenant general. The King of England was definitely the most successful when it came to conquering Island Nation States.

Apparently, the last emperor thriving is the Emperor of Japan, who serves as head of the imperial family and the head of state of Japan.

In Europe, the other monarchical governments with King or Queen as Head of State are found in The Netherlands, Belgium, Denmark, Sweden and Luxemburg where the present monarch is King Harald V, who has reigned since 17 January 1991, succeeding his father, Olav V. The heir apparent is his only son, Crown Prince Haakon.

In Spain, King Felipe VI was proclaimed the Head of State in a swearing-in ceremony instead of a coronation. He received the royal sash from his father, Juan Carlos.

Executive head

In Portugal, the president who is the executive head of state appoints the prime minister. There is no limit as to the number of times the latter can be appointed. Executive power is exercised by the president and the council of ministers.

France runs a pure presidential system of government and has done so since 1848. The first President of the French Republic was Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte (later Napoleon III), who was elected in the 1848 election, under the Second Republic. 

The federal government of Germany follows a parliamentary system with the federal chancellor as head of government and federal president as a mostly ceremonial head of state.  Italy is headed by the high council of the Judiciary, a body presided over by the president, who is the head of state, though this position is separate from all branches. Italy has a high turn-over of Prime Minister.

Israel runs a parliamentary system, with Reuven Rivlin serving as the 10th and current President since 2014, a position that is largely ceremonial, with executive power vested in the prime minister.

India also has a parliamentary system. The head of state is nominated by the party that forms the government after popular elections. The current president and Head of State of India is Ram Nath Kovind, elected in 2017 after being nominated by BJP, the party run by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Malaysia’s political framework is that of a federal representative democratic constitutional monarchy, in which the Yang di-Pertuan Agong is Head of State and the prime minister of Malaysia is the head of government. Executive power is exercised by the federal government and the 13 state governments.

Let us now cross over to Africa where the Republic of South Africa (RSA) is woefully wrongly claimed to practice a parliamentary system of government. RSA is a parliamentary republic with a three-tier system of government. The executive authority is vested in the president who is head of state and head of government and his cabinet.

The national government comprises the legislative, executive and the judiciary tiers. Parliament consists of the National Assembly and the council of provinces.

The judiciary consists of the Constitutional Court, the Supreme Court and the High Court. All bodies of government are subject to the rule of the Constitution. RSA has a bicameral Parliament that consists of the National Assembly (the Lower House) and the National Council of Provinces (the Upper House).

Lesotho government is a constitutional monarchy. The prime minister, Tom Thabane, is head of government and has executive authority. The monarch is head of state, the succession being ratified by the college of chiefs. The Prime Minister is head of government and appoints a Cabinet.

Not far we have Easwatini (formerly Swaziland) which is an absolute monarchy with constitutional provisions and Swazi law and custom.

Purely presidential

The Ngwenyama or Lion is King Mswati III, who ascended to the throne in 1986 after the death of his father King Sobhuza II in 1982 and a period of regency because of his young age. Eswatini constitution has the King and Ingwenyama is a symbol of unity and the eternity of the Swazi nation.

That’s it. There are no other parliamentary systems of government that I know. And that is why I do not know how Italy, Japan, Israel, India, Canada and the Netherlands are being touted as countries which run successful parliamentary systems of government with a head of state who is a president. They are mainly monarchs. It is only tiny Israel that runs a purely presidential system but with a ceremonial president. Where is the monarch for Kenya?

On the other hand, 79 countries, including Kenya, run a presidential system of governance, where the president is both head of state and head of government, without a prime minister. That includes 39 African countries.

In my humble view, those advocating a parliamentary system had better consult widely. At the moment they are pushing the wagon uphill.

-The writer is a lawyer and author

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