KATIBA: Neither parliamentary system nor proportional representation necessarily shares power

President Uhuru Kenyatta, opposition leaders Raila Odinga and Kalonzo Musyoka as well as Busia Senator Hon. Amos Wako at the Peoples’ Palace in Kinshasa, DRC during the inauguration ceremony of the newly elected Congolese President Felix Tshisekedi.
President Uhuru Kenyatta, opposition leaders Raila Odinga and Kalonzo Musyoka as well as Busia Senator Hon. Amos Wako at the Peoples’ Palace in Kinshasa, DRC during the inauguration ceremony of the newly elected Congolese President Felix Tshisekedi.

Among the various comments about a “referendum” — which seems to have become another way to say “amending the Constitution” — there are suggestions about sharing of offices among various communities.

Some suggestions have included an inordinate number of jobs for the (mostly) boys: President, two Deputy Presidents, a Prime Minister and two Deputy Prime Ministers. The responsibilities of these posts are unclear.


Having a lot of big jobs enables bargaining to take place if it seems necessary to involve in government groups other those that “won” the election. But it is not inevitable that this is how they will be used. The media revealed that if NASA had won in 2017, the goodies of the office would have been shared among Raila Odinga, Moses Wetang’ula, Musalia Mudavadi, Kalonzo Musyoka and (at one point) Isaac Rutto. The Kikuyu and most of the Kalenjin would have felt as excluded as the Luo, the Luyha and the Kamba seemed to feel in 2017.


In a parliamentary system, power is mostly with the Cabinet, among whom the head of the government, the Prime Minister, is in theory a first among equals. The collective Cabinet can be more representative of the nation, so much more inclusive than the system we have now with one “big boss” in the form of the single, directly elected, executive President.

Also, a broad ranging party might be more inclined to support a leader from a minority group (though in Kenya it seems more likely that leadership would go to whoever brought in the most voters, thus again focussing on larger ethnic groups).

But there are still winners and losers, and few losers will be found in positions of power. And if a government includes people from other political parties than the Prime Minister, it will usually be because the PM’s party had not won enough seats in Parliament to govern alone. But to govern alone is usually the ambition of parties contesting parliamentary system elections. Some countries, it is true, make a virtue of forming government of a number of parties, and having something of a national consensus. There is for example often a big difference in the political cultures of a country like Sweden, and the countries with Westminster systems, where one party is likely to emerge with an overall majority.

But even in Sweden, people have ideological differences, and there may not be much enthusiasm for having all points of view in the government. In last year’s Swedish general election, an anti-immigration party won about 20 per cent of the seats. The previous main government party with its allies held about 40 per cent and the main opposition party and allies 40 per cent. Both big parties refused to partner with the anti-immigration party, so it took months to form a government.

In other words, in a parliamentary system, even a proportional representation system, parties want to form government with a majority, of course, but with as few people as possible from parties that have very different ideologies and programmes, so that they do not have to give up too much of their own programmes as the price for getting into office.

And to get support they may also have to give up powerful government positions to rivals, as Angela Merkel in Germany had to appoint a member of the party that supported her to get into office as Chancellor (Prime Minister) as Finance minister. The German coalition, like the Swedish, has a narrow majority

It may work differently if an election is won by a massive coalition of forces among whom offices are planned to be shared (Moses Kuria’s plan?). A bit like a one-party state.

Various African countries used to be one-party states, a form of power sharing (if that one party is inclusive). Citizens of those countries, if not their leaders, who often became dictators, came to rebel against this arrangement.


Power sharing governments are those where not just the election winners and their friends are in government. Sometimes this happens on an ad hoc basis, perhaps precipitated by a crisis. This was true of the nusu mkate government in Kenya: the government with Kibaki as President and Raila as Prime Minister as the result of the National Accord, and constitutional amendment, of 2008.

Sometimes the law requires it. In Fiji, under its 1997 Constitution, any party that got 10 per cent or more of the seats in Parliament was entitled to a proportionate share of the seats in the Cabinet. The resistance that this sort of idea faces is shown by what followed. Each main party won one of the next two elections. Each also had enough seats to be entitled to sit in Cabinet. Yet the leader of each winning party used technicalities to prevent that happening. When eventually it did happen (some time after the second of those elections) it seemed to be working not too badly. But the government, and the constitution, were overthrown by a coup.

Zanzibar recently adopted a power-sharing model, because of a history of electoral violence. This involves the First Vice President being from the party that gets the second largest number of seat, and the Second VP can be from the President’s party. The President may appoint ministers in proportion to the seats won by parties.

In 2014, some academics said this had produced a government in which politicians worked together to solve problems. But clearly, the system has not cured all ills. The election commission declared the 2015 election, in which the opposition was declared the winner invalid and directed a re-run. The opposition boycotted this, and thus the other group, allied with the mainland ruling party, won.

A famous, and very different, example is Lebanon where the President is always a Maronite Christian, the prime minister a Sunni Muslim and the Speaker of Parliament a Shia Muslim. Ministerial posts are also shared between Christians and Muslims. The process of agreeing who should hold how many posts in the government has proved so difficult after the May 2018 election that there is still no new government.


Proportional representation is designed to produce a parliament that reflects more accurately than the one we have now how the people voted. If a party gets 40 per cent of the votes it gets 40 per cent of the seats. It is usually more inclusive, especially because smaller parties with scattered support are more likely to get seats than in our system. But, as Sweden shows, it is not likely to ensure every group in society (whether ethnic or ideological) will be represented in government.


The difficulties Zanzibar has faced make one wonder whether the real problem was differences between parties or lack of trust in the electoral system. They also show people are desperately keen to win even in power-sharing situations.

Lebanon shows us that rigid power sharing systems may still not solve problems. Lebanon also faces issues arising from changed balance between religious groups, and less willingness of many to be pigeonholed into religious categories. But there is fear of changing the system in case violence is re-ignited.

Power sharing can be designed, if it meets the problems that Kenya faces.

First, the issues are not about policies. Can you imagine a Kenyan politician saying, “I don’t want to be in your government because I don’t agree with your ideology”?

Is it really even about communities? Do communities produce leaders or leaders cajole, bribe or intimidate (the majority of) their communities into supporting “our” person?

Or is it all about leaders whose message is essentially “We are so desperate to be in office that we will do almost anything to get there. So you will only get peace if we all — at least of the big five — can be guaranteed some nice, lucrative, prominent position.”

People must not be deceived into believing that some ideas will solve problems when they are neither designed, nor likely, to do so.