What if Ruto chooses to use Putin's playbook?

President William Ruto when he met with the leadership of Safaricom, KCB & NCBA on September 28, 2022. [Wilberforce Okwiri, Standard] 

On December 12, 2021 at State House, Nairobi, at around 10pm, my colleagues and I were having a conversation and suddenly the white Victorian doors in one of the rooms burst open. In came this middle-aged man, impeccably dressed in a starched bright white cotton shirt and a royal purple tie. His dark suit had to be Brioni.

Anyway, he assertively walked in and muttered to us “good evening gentlemen” and walked to his table which was a couple of feet away. Once there, he removed his face mask then turned back and our eyes locked.  For some good ten seconds, he didn’t blink. His eyes were fixed on me. I, on the other hand, went numb. I felt a chill go down my spine and then looked away. I couldn’t bare the stare down. It was the then Deputy President William Ruto.

I had every reason to go numb. Not so much because of our Fourth Estate Ruto bashing episodes, but because just before Ruto walked in, my colleague had made the most ridiculous statement. He said, “if Ruto ever became President, the masses will make him President for life.”

This week I remembered the words from that evening. And I asked myself what if President Ruto was to rule for life?

The thought was also inspired by the words of George Orwell when he said, "No one ever seizes power with the intention of relinquishing it. Power is not a means; it is an end. One does not establish a dictatorship in order to safeguard a revolution; one makes the revolution in order to establish the dictatorship.”

Think what you may, but the Hustler nation was the revolution Ruto needed to climb to power. But it's not what he will need to remain in power.

And this leads me back to my thought. Does Dr Ruto intend to stay in power beyond 2032? And if he does, how will he do it?

In my view, if President Ruto wants to rule beyond 2032, he must change the Constitution. Can he do it? And the answer is a resounding yes.

There is precedence. When Russian President Vladmir Putin was first elected to office in 2000, Russia's Constitution pegged Presidential term limits to two 4-year terms. This meant that Putin could only serve for a maximum of eight years.

Russian President Vladimir Putin. [AP Photo]

But Putin had a plan. At the end of his term in 2008, he did three things.

One, he endorsed his Deputy Prime Minister Dimitry Medvedev for President in the 2008 Presidential election. Two, he got the Russian Parliament to amend the Constitution and extend Presidential term limits from 4 years per term to 6 years per term. Finally, Putin extended the life of Parliament by 2 years.

This technically meant that instead of serving a maximum of eight years, Putin was to have served a maximum of 12 years, and, therefore, his term should have ended in 2012 and not 2008. But more importantly, it meant Putin had not served one full term and was eligible to run again.

Anyway, Medvedev became President then immediately appointed Putin as his Prime Minister. At the time, Putin had control of the executive and Parliament. In fact, he was the de-facto Head of Government.

In the 2012 election Putin run again and was elected President. He was re-elected again in 2018 and somehow got the Russian Parliament to change the law to keep him in power until 2036.

What's my point here?

If President William Ruto ever wanted to lead beyond 2032, he has a framework from Putin.

And if Ruto plotted and strategised for 2022 back in 2012, he cannot be simply thinking of the 2027 election. In any case he has a majority in Parliament and zero opposition. Plus, there is no kumi yangu na kumi ya Rigathi.

If Ruto will indeed change the Constitution and expunge term limits like Putin did, we will swear in the sixth President of Kenya in 2062. Remember, "no one ever seizes power with the intention of relinquishing it. Power is not a means; it is an end."

The writer, Kevin Maina, is a Research Fellow and Political Risk consultant at The Consulting House. [email protected]

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