Since 1902

Framers of the Constitution intended strong deputy presidents

 

Former President Mwai Kibaki during the promulgation of the new constitution in 2010. [File, Standard]

 

The framers of the Constitution clearly intended the Deputy President to act as a check on presidential power.

Previously, president could fire and hire Vice Presidents as they pleased. But that was not the problem. Despite the whiff of patronage politics involved in the doling out of VP positions, the habit had little impact on the number of sufurias in Kenyan homes – as former president Daniel Moi colourfully put it.

The real problem was the fact that the presidency was a winner-take-all affair at the exclusion of the president’s non-coethnics. By binding the president to his deputy, the framers sought to bring stability to the ethnic coalition building process that produced winning presidential tickets. Recall that the 2007-08 PEV and the broken MOUs that preceded it loomed large over the amendment process.

This is an important point to remember as the two leading presidential candidates select their running mates. Kenyans expect the selection to signal an underlying cross-ethnic coalition building logic. Conversely, those who are pining for a stylized version of the American model – in which the presidential selects a loyal running mate that he or she is comfortable with – are wrong on two counts.

First, even in a presidential system that is centuries old like America, presidents choose their running mates with coalitions in mind. Mike Pence shored up the Evangelical vote for Donald Trump. In selecting Kamala Harris, Joe Biden was nodding in the direction of women and non-white Americans.

Second, the first American Vice Presidents were the runner-ups in electoral college votes – a constitutional handshake of sorts. It was only after party identities hardened and partisan fights between presidents and vice presidents acquired salience that the 12th amendment created the position of the running mate.

Given our political culture and the ephemeral nature of our political parties, it is perfectly fine to have strong Deputy Presidents with their own bases of political support that can credibly balance the president.

The best presidents are constrained presidents.

The writer is an Assistant Professor at Georgetown University