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December 11, 2018

Parliamentary system could assist Big Man

Voters queue at Kayole Social Hall to cast their votes during the proposed constitution referendum photo Philip Kamakya
Voters queue at Kayole Social Hall to cast their votes during the proposed constitution referendum photo Philip Kamakya

On Thursday Burundi held a referendum to extend presidential terms from five years to seven years. If successful, President Pierre Nkurunziza will be eligible to stand for another two seven-year terms from 2020, potentially keeping him in power until 2034. 

In Uganda President Yoweri Museveni is lifting presidential age limits so that he can remain in power indefinitely. He became president in 1986.

In Rwanda President Paul Kagame, who has been in power since 1994, has tweaked the constitution so he can remain president until 2034.

The era of the Big Man has returned to East Africa. Whatever its other problems, thankfully Kenya has remained immune to this disease.

Debate has recently opened up on whether Kenya should switch to a parliamentary system. The present all-powerful executive presidency definitely encourages ethnic bloc voting and a parliamentary system might remove the bitterness of winner-takes-all.

But a parliamentary system would make it much easier for a Big Man to entrench himself. An executive Prime Minister could remain in power as long as enough MPs backed him.

Let's not overlook what is happening around us in East Africa when we debate possible constitutional changes.

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