Senator Cherargei’s seven-year presidential term limit proposal sparks uproar


Nandi Senator Samson Cherargei.

Photo credit: File I Nation Media Group

A proposal by Nandi Senator Samson Cherargei to amend the presidential term limit has drawn sharp reactions, with critics saying it could be a ploy to introduce "presidents for life" in the near future.

As a member of the ruling UDA party led by President William Ruto, some observers see mischief in the proposal which, if passed, would see the country elect presidents after seven years as opposed to the current five.

President Ruto scoffs at bid to remove presidential term limit

Two days ago, the lawmaker presented a memorandum to the National Dialogue Committee at the Bomas of Kenya seeking to amend the Constitution to extend the presidential term limit in Kenya from five to seven years before the next election.

However, this has been opposed by opposition leaders and other opinion-makers who say it is ill-advised.

While the idea was mooted by Mr Cherargei, they also read President Ruto's hand in it to test the waters and see how the public reacts.

High ranking UDA leaders however say the party or State House has nothing to do with the senator’s proposals. Neither has he been sent to execute it, they say.

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Mr Opiyo Wandayi, the leader of the Minority Party in the National Assembly said he was not surprised by the move by the close Dr Ruto ally but vowed to resist such plans.

"This is just a trial balloon and the tip of the iceberg. Their ultimate goal is to abolish presidential term limits. But they will not succeed. They will meet the full resistance of Kenyans," said Mr Wandayi, who is also the MP for Ugunja.

His views are echoed by his Alego Usonga counterpart, Mr Samuel Atandi, who told the Nation that they saw this coming during the campaign.

The proposals come at a time when the Kenya Kwanza government is struggling with infighting among its leaders, public backlash over the rising cost of living and unfulfilled election promises.

Homa Bay Senator Moses Kajwang sees the proposals as a plot by the Kenya Kwanza government to distract Kenyans.

"No sane Kenyan would want to prolong the suffering caused by Kenya Kwanza for another day. It is obvious that the government has run out of ideas on how to run the country and has resorted to petty political distractions," said Mr Kajwang. 

Speaking at Mungore Primary School in Bungoma County, during the launch of feeding programme, the leaders from Western also accused the senator of harbouring intentions to take the country back to a period they described as regressive and unfavourable. 

They vowed to resist and dismantle any initiatives they perceived as favouring a select few at the expense of the wider population.

"He [Cherargei] is still living in the era of the late President Daniel Moi, people are suffering and he is still telling us to extend the term limit, so we want to tell him that it will not work and he will be in for a bigger fight," declared Bumula MP Jack Wamboka (DAP-K).

According to pundits, the current debate on changing the presidential term limit is not a priority now.  

Aukot: It is selfish to increase presidential term limit

Dissenting voices within the Western Region have raised intriguing questions about the potential impact of such an extension, particularly on the political aspirations of the Luhya leaders who are keen to inherit the big seat from Dr Ruto.

Matungu MP Oscar Nabulindo (ODM) rebuked the senator, insisting that Kenya had a rich pool of capable leaders and there was no reason to extend a president's term.

"Going back to that period is not an option. Kenya is a diverse and expansive nation with many capable leaders. The question is: why should we extend this period? We strongly oppose this proposal and advocate a standard five-year term, followed by the possibility of another five years if the electorate so chooses. After that, it's time to step aside," he said.

Article 142 of Chapter Nine of the Constitution states that the President's term of office begins on the day of his inauguration and ends when the next President is inaugurated in accordance with Article 136 (2) (a).

It provides for a five-year term with the possibility of a subsequent five-year term. Therefore, any changes to the constitutional framework would require a national referendum.

Suna East MP and Minority Whip Junet Mohamed said many leaders were unaware of the history of how the country agreed on two terms, otherwise someone would stay in power as long as they wanted.

He suggests that term limits should be reduced even further. 

"This is not tenable under the new constitution. In fact, if we were to follow the United States presidential system, the term limits should even be reduced to two terms of four years each," says Mr Mohammed.

The proposal is also opposed by leaders allied to Kenya Kwanza, with many describing it as "absolute rubbish" and "nonsense".

"This is absolute nonsense and I want to advise Kenyans to be wary of people like Cherargei who have no idea where these statements come from and have just stumbled into high office. The new constitution came after many years of deliberations on the pros and cons of term limits," said Kakamega Senator Dr Boni Khalwale, also the Senate Majority Whip.

East African Legislative Assembly member Kanini Kega also supports Mr Mohamed, saying the current term limit is enough for any president to implement his manifesto.

He explained that in the US, presidents serve for four years and if you have a proper plan, you are able to implement it within the eight years.

"A president does what he or she can because it is like a relay race. Even if you can lay a foundation like Mwai Kibaki did, that's good enough and Uhuru Kenyatta built on the infrastructure and the current president is growing the economy through industries," said Mr Kega.

He added: "This is absolute nonsense that should not be entertained. There will always be challenges and that does not mean that you extend the term limit. In Kenya we have 10 years, that is enough".

The debate has also caught the attention of other players in the electoral process. 

Dr Roselyne Akombe, a former commissioner at the IEBC, also issued a warning to Kenyans, telling them to be ready as she foresaw a sustained push by proponents of the idea to see it see the light of day.

"In too many countries, when the political elite change the length of the presidency or introduce term limits, the clock restarts. Moi did it in 1992. Let's get ready," she said in a tweet.

The argument, according to the Senator, a mere five-year term does not allow enough time for effective governance and the formation of a capable team to implement the manifesto.

If implemented, his proposal would mean that a newly elected president would serve an initial term of seven years, with the possibility of an additional seven-year extension. That would see an individual rule the country for 14 years.

Mr Cherargei has also proposed the creation of a prime minister's office within the parliamentary structure, whose duties would include acting as the government's official spokesperson within the legislative body.