Bill on powerful PM intensifies debate on post-Uhuru politics

Tiaty MP William Kamket defends his bill on changes to the governance system, before the National Assembly's Budget and Appropriations Committee on March 1, 2018 at Parliament Buildings. The committee has 21 days to consider the bill and table a report. PHOTO | JEFF ANGOTE | NATION MEDIA GROUP

What you need to know:

  • Nasa said Kenyans should focus on the Bomas Draft that proposed a bicameral Legislature and a dual-Executive system.
  • Supporters of the bill say, with some changes, it is a sure way of addressing the feeling of exclusivity brought about by a winner-take-all system.
  • Jubilee has said President Kenyatta will remain the party leader even after he completes his second and final term in office in 2022.

In private, President Uhuru Kenyatta’s Jubilee Party faces a dilemma over a bill by Tiaty MP William Kamket, a government leaning lawmaker, proposing radical changes including introducing the position of a powerful prime minister and significantly clipping presidential powers.

Internally, there are those who feel the proposed law guarantees Mr Kenyatta an active role in the country’s politics post 2022.

Then there are those who feel that effecting the changes would be tantamount to shortchanging Mr Kenyatta’s deputy William Ruto at the 11th hour, a man who is pulling out all the stops to ensure he becomes the fifth president.


Those close to the DP, who spoke to Nation in confidence, said they expect Mr Ruto to enjoy executive presidency and will entertain nothing short of this.

Even as the party, through National Assembly Majority Leader Aden Duale, disowned the Bill on Wednesday, the reality is that there are more internal intrigues going on that could either see the position change in due course or stayed.

“There has been misreporting in the media that Mr Kamket is a Jubilee MP. Get your facts right. Mr Kamket is a Kanu MP and, therefore, his bill is not a Jubilee sponsored,” Mr Duale said.

And while the bill was expected to excite Nasa, which has been pushing for a similarly expanded Executive, the Raila Odinga-led team has dismissed it as a “side-show” that they said will not give Kenyans the governance setup they were pushing for.

Instead, Nasa said, Kenyans should focus on the Bomas Draft that proposed a bicameral Legislature and a dual-Executive system, with a prime minister as head of government and president as head of state.

“The Bomas Draft contains cures to the problems of inclusion, strengthening of devolution, the shape of the Executive and security sector reforms,” Nasa said in a statement signed by Mr Odinga, and co-principals Kalonzo Musyoka, Musalia Mudavadi, and Moses Wetang’ula.

In its power-sharing agreement before the election, Nasa had proposed Mr Odinga as a powerful president, Mr Musyoka his deputy, Mr Mudavadi as the premier Cabinet secretary with Mr Wetang’ula in Public Service and former Bomet governor Isaac Ruto (Devolution and Planning) deputising him.

“The Kamket bill has a chilling resemblance to others that have been implemented in the region, notably in Uganda and Rwanda where the seven-year term presidency has been introduced and is a pointer to the thinking in Jubilee on the direction elections should take in Kenya going forward,” the Nasa said in a statement.

Asked whether there were plans to have Mr Kenyatta remain active in politics after the 2022 election, Jubilee vice chairman David Murathe, while quick to clarify he was giving his personal opinion, said:

“People want Uhuru to go home at 60 yet Raila (opposition leader Raila Odinga) is trying to be president at 75, where do you want Uhuru to go?”

This loaded statement is likely to be the subject of heated analyses and speculations going forward.

Jubilee has said President Kenyatta will remain the party leader even after he completes his second and final term in office in 2022.

Proponents of the bill in the ruling party think that to rally more than five million voters from the larger Mt Kenya region and their kin in diaspora solidly behind Mr Ruto, and cure a likely voter apathy in the absence of a candidate in the presidential ticket from there, there may be more need to have Mr Kenyatta stick around.

That is where the dilemma sprouts. What role does he play? Having been a president, can you have him deputise Ruto? And if that’s not workable, what options remain?

These are some of the questions they are grappling with even as most of the party leaders like secretary-general Raphael Tuju feel it wrong to discuss 2022 politics now when the country has just emerged from a long-drawn electioneering period.

A party insider told the Sunday Nation that a decision was yet to be arrived at on how lawmakers would vote, were the bill to get to such a stage.

“It is delicate and we must settle for what works for both the President and his deputy. I’m sure our party leadership would not want to send mixed signals on this subject,” the source said.

While none in Jubilee’s ranks would come out in the open to support it since they are yet to know what the top leadership thinks, those in support say the bill, with some modifications, is a sure way of addressing the feeling of exclusivity brought about by a winner-take-all presidential system.

“If passed into law, the bill introduces three new positions: that of prime minister and two deputies.

"And in a country where ethnic communities want to see one of their own in influential positions, with that, you have already brought three blocs on board. It is a good way of stabilising our polarised politics,” the insider said.

Mr Kamket has pointed out that many Jubilee MPs are excited about the proposed law and have pledged to support it when it comes up for vote.

“My colleagues agree with me that what we have now is a dining table for two individuals (president and deputy). Under the circumstances, the presidential system is untenable, so we either have to reinvent ourselves as a country or self-destruct,” the lawmaker said.

Following the disputed presidential election in August last year, a poll whose results were voided by the Supreme Court and a subsequent one ordered, Nasa has intensified calls for secession, arguing the Kenyan “marriage” was not working.

Mr Kamket said his proposal was an opportunity to review the Constitution to address its shortcomings and foster national cohesion.

He denied claims he could be part of a scheme to deny Mr Ruto the presidency.

“That is way off the mark. But again, in a succession period like now, what seems obvious may not be. It may seem that the DP is only a step away from the presidency. Not so? I don’t think so. He needs to do more,” he said, challenging Mr Ruto to run with the idea as it “may be his best bet to State House”.

Should Mr Kenyatta hang around, one could draw parallels between this and a situation in Russia in 2008 involving strongman Vladimir Putin and now Prime Minister Dimitry Medvedev.

When bound by the constitution to step down as president, Mr Putin backed Medvedev – his protégé – to succeed him only to return after four years to start a fresh term as president.

In the Kenyan case however none is the other’s protégé.

The first time MP said, in crafting the document, he has not barred Mr Kenyatta from ruling the country in future.

“I however doubt he would want to go that route since he is already at the apex, plus he has an attractive retirement package waiting for him,” he said.

As part of the scrutiny, Mr Kamket appeared before the Budget and Appropriations Committee of the National Assembly on Thursday to see whether its financial implications are sustainable.

Under the House standing orders, the committee has 21 days to consider the bill and table a report.

The MP wants the prime minister to be an elected member of the National Assembly. He also seeks the scrapping of the Office of the Deputy President.

And for one to be elected president, one will have to be aged 50 and above as the president serves a single term of seven years and will be elected by a joint sitting of Parliament (Senate and the National Assembly).

Further, the bill seeks to change the date of the general election from the second Tuesday of August to the second Tuesday of December of the fifth year.

Another radical proposal is to restructure the Senate. In Mr Kamket’s bill, every county will have two senators, a man and woman, but they will be elected by the county assembly.

Six other nominated senators will be nominated to represent the youth and the disabled.

The admission by the sponsor of the bill, which promises to alter the country’s political architecture before the 2022 election, that his party leader and Kanu chairman Gideon Moi fully supports it may complicate matters since it thrusts it at the heart of President Kenyatta’s succession as well as triggers a new supremacy war in the Rift Valley.

Mr Moi and Mr Ruto are entangled in a vicious fight over who is the region’s kingpin. Mr Moi has his own presidential ambitions.

The fact that it is a Kanu MP coming up with the bill has not helped matters given that the Independence party supported the re-election of Mr Kenyatta.

Kanu secretary-general Nick Salat said Mr Kamket had the party’s backing.

“We back him on this and ask MPs to support the bill and any other law that will positively impact the country,” he said.

Following the merger of about half a dozen parties last year to form one party, Jubilee has overwhelming majority in Parliament and would easily have both the President and prime minister were the bill to see the light of the day.

The Director of the Institute for Development Studies at the University of Nairobi, Prof Winnie Mitullah, who was one of the leading contributors during the 2005 and 2010 debates on the Constitution, termed the initiative a part of the vicious circle the country keeps finding itself in in a bid for cohesion.

“Some of us have in the past put forth the idea of adopting a rotational presidency. We all agree - there is a problem and we must find a solution. You cannot convince me that the leadership baton can only be rotating between two communities. It is not sustainable,” she said.