Why Raila is rooting for parliamentary system

Orange Party leader Raila Odinga (left) during the launch of 'Presidential or Parliamentary Democracy in Kenya? Choices to Be Made' book authored by Kisumu Governor Anyang' Nyong'o in Nairobi on Tuesday, September 24, 2019. Looking on is Kisumu Governor Anyang Nyong'o and his wife Dorothy. [David Njaaga, Standard]

A parliamentary system of Government, where the Executive is elected by MPs, is the best way to stop election-related violence and ethnic polarisation, Opposition leader Raila Odinga has said. 

Speaking at the University of Nairobi on Tuesday evening during the launch of a book by Kisumu Governor Anyang’ Nyong’o, titled “Presidential or Parliamentary Democracy in Kenya? Choices to Be Made,” Raila said the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) offered a platform to review the current structure of Government.

He argued that a parliamentary system would not only tame an imperial presidency but also create institutions that work for the country while giving members of minority groups opportunities to rise to power.

Better way

“A parliamentary system is viewed as a better way to raise the majority threshold in a country where tribes view each other with suspicion in the race for power,” said Raila.

“Parliamentary system is generally suitable for plural societies; that is societies in which the political landscape is composed of diverse cultural, religious, ethnic, racial and regional interests, and that is what Kenya is,” he said.

The Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) leader said the country was ripe for public debate on the merits and demerits of the current governance system.

He warned against what he described as fear-mongering to stifle debate on constitutional amendments.

“We have been striving to create this through the Building Bridges Initiative and many other forums. Unfortunately, such efforts are being hindered by the culture of hatred for debate and preference for fear and fear-mongering by certain leaders,” he said.

Raila argued that nations moved forward by constantly debating, challenging old assumptions, refusing to settle for less and testing new frontiers and new possibilities. “Debate is the tested way to ensure politics of reason overcome politics of fear, whose result is hatred and division, which, unfortunately, is getting mainstreamed in this country,” he said.

He appealed for tolerance in the ongoing debate on the Constitution.

“As a country, let us not threaten our citizens against debating their future. We must guard against fear-mongering and embrace any effort that encourages debate about our current state and our future,” he said.

The former Prime Minister was a strong proponent of the Bomas Draft in 2005, which had proposed a governance system with a president, a deputy president and a prime minister, which he still insists, was the best for the country.

“If we had adopted the Bomas Draft under the leadership of Prof Yash Pal Ghai, we would not be having these problems. We need to debate on the matter now to create an informed citizenry,” he said.

Raila backed the proposal to have members of the cabinet picked from parliament.

“At the moment, CSs are invited to parliamentary committees to find some MPs waiting to extort money,” he said.

According to Raila, electoral violence is more frequent under presidential systems than parliamentary regimes.

Widespread violence

“People lose contests for parliamentary or county seats, but it never degenerates into widespread violence or any at all. That is good enough reason for the country to relook the national Executive,” he said

Raila cited Italy, Japan, Israel, India, Canada and Netherlands, among others, as countries that had a parliamentary system and experienced relative stability during transitions. “I was talking to former UK PM Gordon Brown recently and he told me that a parliamentary system holds the government more accountable to the people,” he said.

While defending the BBI, Raila said the initiative was tackling nine key areas of ethnic antagonism and competition, lack of national ethos, inclusivity, devolution, divisive elections, safety and security, and corruption.

“We are also struggling with how to ensure national cohesion, provision of sound leadership and creating institutions that can stand up for the nation even under the greatest of pressure. In a nutshell, we have the challenge of how to re-strategise as a country and start all over for the future as many successful nations have done,” he said.

Present during the launch were Cabinet Secretary Raphael Tuju, Siaya Senator James Orengo, Meru Governor Kiraitu Murungi, Lawyer Yash Pal Ghai and former MP Gitobu Imanyara. Mr Murungi supported Raila's parliamentary system idea.

“A parliamentary system is more supportive of devolution. It is not about the personality but the institution of the presidency. The presidency enjoys so much myth and sucks oxygen from other institutions of governance,” he said.

Prof Nyong’o accused the elite in the country of ignoring the Constitution to serve selfish interests.

“I propose a parliamentary system for very good reasons. The presidential system destroys parties and creates a one-man show that brings about sycophancy,” said Nyong’o.

Mr Imanyara argued that the country needed to conduct an audit of the current Constitution to evaluate its performance in the last nine years.

Mr Orengo said the choice of the current presidential system was a compromise to ensure the 2010 draft constitution was not defeated at the referendum. 

Submissions to the BBI suggest the clamour to amend the Constitution to overhaul the country’s governance system, including the creation of the post of Executive Prime Minister.

Presentations by Central Organisation of Trade Unions, governors, senators, MPs, ward reps and the general public were unanimous that the country’s governance system needed to be changed