CONSTITUTIONAL REVIEW

Get rid of presidential ballot

Contenders for the presidency since Independence have leveraged on ethnic mobilisation as well as cult-like followings that they create.

In Summary

• As the debate on changing the Constitution rages on, are we trying to avoid the real problem with our elections with cosmetic changes?

• Former Nyeri Senator Mutahi Kagwe presented his views to the BBI on the possibility of going into the next General Election without a ballot box for the President.

Get rid of presidential ballot
Get rid of presidential ballot

A Goatherd attempted in vain to bring a stray back to the flock. He whistled and blew his horn to no avail. At last, the Goatherd threw a stone that hit the goat’s horn and broke it. He begged the Goat not to tell his master. The Goat replied, “The horn will speak for itself, even if I am silent.”

This is basically what happens when we try to hide that which cannot be hidden.

As the debate on changing the Constitution rages on, are we becoming like the goatherd? Are we trying to avoid the real problem with our elections with cosmetic changes?

As presentations to the Building Bridges Initiative were coming to an end, former Nyeri Senator Mutahi Kagwe presented his views on the possibility of going into the next General Election without a ballot box for the President.

This was a paradigm shift and almost got the BBI team standing on the table, including his former colleague in the Senate, Garissa Senator Yusuf Haji. And this is because it directly tackles what has been the problem with our elections.

Unlike other presentations that have maintained that we should still vote for a ‘ceremonial’ president, Kagwe’s position presents what the country needs. Getting as far as possible away from the emotive and divisive presidential contest.

Although Senator Kagwe's views on proportional representation are views that I have expressed in this column before, what caught the attention of the BBI team were his views that we should not have two centres of power — the President and the Prime Minister.

It has been the norm of the African big man syndrome — we need to elect our chief. In fact, presidential elections in Kenya have been about ‘ethnicity’ and ‘dominant personalities' which has resulted in conflicts that sometimes lead to loss of lives and destruction of property.

Contenders for the presidency since Independence have leveraged on ethnic mobilisation as well as cult-like followings that they create. And even now, getting away from the usual names – Kenyattas, Odingas, Mois, Wamalwas – we have those building personality brands for future contests like Waititu's, Waigurus, Rutos and Sonkos.

What happens to the rest of the accomplished men and women who do not have a brand name? It would also seem the more negative and controversial your brand is the more politically successful you are.

There is also the issue of ethnic mobilisation that has resulted in smaller tribes just being Kingmakers. Since Independence, the Presidency has resided within the dominant tribes - the Kikuyu, the Luo, the Kalenjin, the Kamba, the Luhya – as either president or deputy.

What happens to the smaller tribes such as the Bajuni, the Njemps, the Kuria, the Teso? Don’t they have a stake in the running of this country?

The answer lies in doing away with the presidential ballot that does away with the winner-take-all scenarios. Let’s move to proportional representation that allows all regions to have a stake in who then takes up the country’s executive authority.

As I have argued previously, this is our chance to create parties that are based on ideologies and the voters choose which best fits their aspirations.

We should also not take the Tanzania or Uganda route where the President nominates a lame-duck Prime Minister whose work is only to attend Parliament. The PM in our case should be the leader of the most dominant party in Parliament while the President should be one who garners 65 per cent of Parliament’s votes.

However, we must be alive to the danger of tribal outfits that may be used to horse trade in Parliament to get government positions and support others for PM. This is why we need two or three dominant parties based on ideals.

We do not want to have amorphous outfits such as NASA in 2017 and Narc in 2002 and PNU in 2007. We should avoid coalitions where smaller parties are treated as junior partners thus creating disharmony and confusion.

 

ENDS…

(The writer is a political and communications consultant. Twitter @MachelWaikenda)