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Why MPs will be most powerful politicians if proposals are passed

By Sunday Standard team | October 25th 2020

President Uhuru Kenyatta and former Prime Minister Raila Odinga display a copy of the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) report at Kisii State Lodge.

Away from the enhanced powers of the presidency, being a member of the National Assembly will be prestigious for politicians should the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) report be adopted.

The BBI report could technically re-organise Kenya's political landscape, making the presidential and MP seats highly sought after.

The report, released at Kisii State Lodge on Wednesday by President Uhuru Kenyatta and former Prime Minister Raila Odinga, seeks to expand the structure of the Executive by introducing the positions of prime minister and two deputies.

In the proposal, the premier and deputies will be picked from the party with the majority in Parliament, effectively enhancing the new fortunes for an MP. So, the PM and two deputies will have to be MPs.

President Kenyatta still has 20 months in office before the end of his final term and this has stirred spirited succession politics. Deputy President William Ruto has mounted a spirited campaign to take over from his boss in 2022.

Raila, Ruto's would-be main challenger, has not declared his intentions for the top seat but his close allies have spoken on his behalf, saying he will be on the ballot.

However, speaking at a funeral in Mabole, Kakamega County, yesterday, Raila alluded to being on the ballot in 2022.

The ODM leader dismissed those urging him to retire from active politics, insisting that he has the responsibility to midwife Kenya’s 'third liberation'.

He said he feels strong and determined to liberate Kenyans from poverty, corruption and marginalisation.

“My nemesis celebrated when I was in hospital in Dubai, they thought it was the end of the road for me, expecting that I would come back in a wheelchair. They were wrong. Today, I am much stronger and prepared to lead the country’s third liberation,” Raila said.

It is worth noting, however, that the proposed expansion of the Executive as prescribed by the BBI presents tough choices for any politician on which seat to run for.

The BBI report has enhanced the powers of the president in the new equation. On the other hand, the premier position is also a luxurious one, given that he will run the day-to-day activities of the government.

The big question for Raila and Ruto now would be which of the two seats one can easily clinch.

Should Ruto run for presidency, for example, and win, with Raila coming in second, then the latter would automatically become leader of official Opposition. According to the BBI proposals, one need not be an MP to hold this position. 

According to the BBI proposal, the presidential candidate is not an MP, which therefore makes it a huge gamble for whoever chooses to go for the top seat, given the likelihood that they may lose, and worse, fail to clinch the second position, which would deny them the chance of being leader of official Opposition.

What this means is that party leaders, governors and other top politicians who have been eyeing the presidency  will have to seriously weigh their options before going for the seat.

Besides Ruto, other leaders who have openly declared their intentions to go for the presidency in 2022 are Musalia Mudavadi (ANC), Kalonzo Musyoka (Wiper), Alfred Mutua (Chap Chap) and Kivutha Kibwana (Muungano).

Other politicians also seen to be playing in the top league are Kanu chairman Gideon Moi and a number of second term governors, including Wycliffe Oparanya (Kakamega) and Hassan Joho (Mombasa). Former Gatanga MP Peter Kenneth's name has also featured in discussions on the possible line ups for 2022 as are other politicians such as Martha Karua.

A number of Cabinet Secretaries have also been floated as being targeted for bigger roles. This includes Interior CS Fred Matiang'i whose profile, besides being one of the most visible CSs in Kenyatta's government, has risen, with Kisii recently becoming the epi-centre of political activity.

Matiang'i, through an Executive Order, chairs of the National Development Implementation and Communication Committee, making him the most powerful member of the current Cabinet.

According to lawyer Ahmednasir Abdullahi, if the BBI proposals are adopted, many politicians, including senior ones, will be forced to run back to the constituency to win over the seats, with the hope that they enhance their chances of remaining relevant politically.

"The big wigs who have lately been claiming and pretending that they will go for the presidency will run to the constituency. It will be safe there because one will have enhanced chances of relevance, by either becoming premier, deputy or Cabinet minister," Ahmednasir said.

He said the likes of Mudavadi, Kalonzo, Ford Kenya's Moses Wetang'ula (Bungoma senator) alongside other national politicians, will now be forced to run back to their constituencies.

Previously, Raila was MP for Lang'ata, Ruto (Eldoret North), Mudavadi (Sabatia), Kalonzo (Mwingi North), Wetang'ula (Sirisia).

"There are no guarantees that their big names will earn them victory at the constituencies though. The dynamics there are different from those of the national politics. There is no certainty that the popular politicians will win the MP seat in their backyards," Ahmednasir said.

Constitutional expert Bobi Mkangi differs with the BBI proposals.

“The current law responds to views of Kenyans presented before the Prof Yash Pal Ghai Commission, which spoke of winner-takes-all. It did not not envisage a fallback mechanism for losers," Mkangi says.

“If we wanted regional balance, we could as well go the Singapore way or Nigeria or Tanzania. For now, we are left with MoUs and Handshakes as we remain hopeful that the structure will represent Kenya."

With the new tidings, away from the presidency, being a member of the National Assembly seems to be tilting politicians towards seeking a seat in the August House.

Currently, the 22 members of Cabinet are technocrats and former politicians and it will be expected that with the retirement of President Kenyatta, a majority could consider a leap into the political ring.

With the enhanced chances for an MP, Senator Mutula Kilonzo Jnr believes that most of the 25 governors serving their second and final terms will now consider running back to their constituencies.

"If the proposals pass, then we might see the likes of my governor in Makueni and his Machakos comrade Dr Alfred Mutua shelving their dreams for the presidency for the constituency job," Mutula Jnr said.

He said a number of leaders who want to be in the next political formation have no choice but to run as MPs.

“Most importantly, the presidential candidates will need to form strong coalitions in advance. This may end the presidential disputes. Otherwise, a successful candidate may end up without a majority in Parliament,” Mutula Jnr said.

He said the number of those who will end up in the presidential ballot will be greatly reduced to two and at most four.

Ahmednasir and Mutula Jnr acknowledge that the contest for the presidency will weed out "jokers", given that there will be no fallback.

Instead, most of the presidential "pretenders" will angle for posts of deputy president, prime minister and two deputies.

"There are many politicians now claiming to be running for presidency. They are pretenders. When the right time comes, they will be salivating for these offices but will shout that their target is the presidency," Ahmednasir said.

Dr Samuel Okuro of Jaramogi Oginga Odinga University of Science and Technology says it will be tricky for the politicians to gamble and miss out in the new formation, which means some will have to run as MPs.

“The tribal chiefs will have to go to the electorate to seek a mandate. It would be a tragedy for one not to run and hope to be included in the expanded Executive through alliances.

"The political players will be known before the vote and the positions they will occupy,” he said. “The positions of PM, DPMs, minister and assistant ministers will be negotiated for before."

The proposed BBI report provides for members of the Cabinet to be appointed from a mix of MPs and technocrats.

“These were all in the harmonised draft, and it promotes inclusiveness. It makes the seat of MP more attractive as someone not sure if they can win the presidency can run for MP and hope to be given a Cabinet position,” said Nzamba Kitonga, a former chair of the Committee of Experts.

He said if the BBI report is adopted, the country might end up with the 2007 presidential scenario, where Mwai Kibaki was elected president and Raila had numbers in Parliament.

“If this happens, a coalition of partners will deliver and a one-man show will be left to the movies,” he said.

Former Mukurweini MP Kabando wa Kabando however feels there is confusion in the BBI proposal.

"BBI proposals states that if Party 'A' wins presidency, party 'B' wins most MPs. So 'B' gets PM, 'B' becomes official Opposition. How now? Or 'A' arbitrarily picks any 'B' MP as PM? Then 'A' sacks PM of 'B' anyhow! Aha! DPMs of any party? Wah! Recipe for crisis, instability, inertia. It's a loud 'NO',” he tweeted yesterday.

ODM Political Affairs Secretary Opiyo Wandayi however said the debate about who will run for what position is premature and unnecessary.

“We are focused on delivering the BBI through the referendum,” the Ugunja MP said.

[Jacob Ngétich, Roselyne Obala and Wilfred Ayaga] 

Download the BBI Judgement by all seven Judges - Civil Appeal No. E291 of 2021
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