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Why the premier post is a hot potato in referendum debate

By Jacob Ng’etich | October 21st 2018 at 12:00:00 GMT +0300

President Uhuru Kenyatta at the Mashujaa Day celebrations in Kakamega. [Duncan Ocholla, Standard]

Nothing in the current push for a referendum excites the country than the creation of the prime minister’s post.

Even before the seat is birthed, there is heightening anxiety over who could be the beneficiary of the position if it is created.

Out of the 13 proposals so far for the change of the 2010 Constitution, 11 have the creation of the office of premier at their heart.

Politically, the allure of the premier’s seat seems to have captured the Kenyan psyche, and a given unanimity seems to suggest that the position could be an alternative to the winner take-all kind of politics that has dominated the country.

Political pundits have indicated that this could actually be the cure for the cyclic chaos that has characterised Kenyan politics every election season.

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Political analyst Mutahi Ngunyi says President Uhuru Kenyatta could serve in the PM position after his presidential term ends in 2022.

“If there is a time the country needs change, it is now. The prime minister position will help create a matatu presidency, you can have Raila Odinga as a ceremonial president and Uhuru as an executive prime minister, but its creation will dismantle animosity,” says Ngunyi.

He says doing away with the presidential system will be a relief given that dictatorship crept in when Kenya adopted the model.

Power-sharing deal

Dismas Mokua, a political risk analyst says the moment is apt and its allure real.

“Parliamentary system of government allows all and sundry to participate in the decision making process of the nation, it will even give marginalised communities an opportunity to lead the country,” Mokua says.

The PM’s office in Kenya dates back to 1963 when Kenya got independence and Jomo Kenyatta was sworn in as the first premier. It was abolished and Jomo became President in 1964.

The same position resurfaced after the tumultuous 2007 elections, when a power-sharing deal was reached in February 2008. The post was created in April 2008 and weeks later, on April 17, Raila was sworn in as Kenya’s second PM. As the charm for the seat continues to pervade, political realignment that comes with its possible return is the talk of town.

According to Busia Woman Representative, Florence Mutua, the creation of the PM post will ensure the actions and decisions of the executive are subjected to stringent parliamentary scrutiny.

To Ms Mutua, the time had come for the review of the structure of government at the national level to shift the nation towards a parliamentary system.

But exactly who is interested in the PM’s position? Some politicians believe that Raila’s quest to have the 2010 Constitution changed is to all have the PM’s seat for him.

“We know that this clamour and calls for referendum is all tied to a creation of PM seat for someone who has lost elections perennially, that is their fixation,” Senate Majority Leader Kipchumba Murkomen recently said.

Murkomen, a deputy president William Ruto’s ally, represent a group of politicians who seem to view the creation of a PM’s post as a dilution of the presidency just when the DP is the heir-apparent.

Raila’s ODM party has been pushing for an executive PM because, according to Ms Mutua, parliamentary democracies tend to be pro-people and not prone to dictatorship.

But it is the intrigues of Uhuru making a comeback as a PM that is slowly creating a silent but vibrant debate.

Young Uhuru

The first such suggestion came from Cotu Secretary General Francis Atwoli during this year’s Labour Day celebrations, when he said Uhuru was still young.

“Where will President Uhuru Kenyatta go after 2022, yet he is a young man? Ataenda kusumbua watu wengine (he will end up making others uncomfortable),” said Atwoli.

One of Uhuru’s allies, who sought anonymity, says the issue of a possible comeback for him is beginning to gain currency than could have been contemplated in the recent past. “It keeps on popping up in debates here and there and whereas it was not unheard of, it is now being quietly entertained,” he said.

Such a move, if it ever comes to pass, will make Uhuru a replica of the Russian President Vladimir Putin.

In Putin’s case, after running for the constitutional two terms between 2000 and 2008, the Russian president had a power-switching operation on May 8, 2008 that saw first Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev elected his successor.

Immediately after handing the presidency to Medvedev, Putin was appointed Prime Minister of Russia, maintaining his political dominance.  

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Prime Minister Uhuru Kenyatta Raila Odinga Referendum Constitution Election IEBC
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