President William Ruto’s close allies and his United Democratic Alliance (UDA) on Tuesday reacted angrily to a suggestion by one of the ruling party’s lawmakers that presidential term limits be abolished.
The UDA top brass and close allies of Dr Ruto described the proposal by Fafi MP Salah Yakub as the legislator’s own view and not the official position of the party or the Kenya Kwanza administration.
Mr Yakub had said UDA lawmakers were working on a constitutional amendment Bill to replace the two-term limit with an age limit of 75 years.
Should such a proposal sail through, it would give Dr Ruto, the sitting President, the leeway to seek re-election for four terms, or 20 years.
Experts, however, warned that such a weighty proposal would require a referendum and not just a parliamentary process.
Dr Ruto, 55, has not expressed any intention to contest the presidency beyond the current constitutional limit of two terms.
But yesterday, the UDA leadership disowned Mr Yakub’s sentiments, saying the party has never contemplated or discussed the matter.
“That is a personal statement of the lawmaker and it should not be construed at any point to reflect as an indication of the position of the party. The true position of the party is that we stand for open democracy, which Kenyans laboured to achieve and attain. It did not come on a silver platter. It came through shedding of blood and, given the distance and miles we have covered, we cannot go back from that position. The party stands for a two-term limit for the presidency,” said UDA chairman Johnson Muthama.
His sentiments were echoed by National Assembly Majority Whip Sylvanus Osoro and Deputy Majority Leader Owen Baya, who described the Fafi MP’s proposal as ‘hot air’, reiterating that the Kenya Kwanza administration believes in the rule of law.
“Kenya Kwanza MPs are focused on legislation that will mitigate challenges Kenyans are facing, including hunger, insecurity, healthcare and job creation. Our colleague’s imaginary topic starts and ends there, in his imagination. There are better ways to court attention, the easiest being positively changing lives,” said Mr Osoro, who is also the South Mugirango MP.
Mr Baya, who is Kilifi North MP, condemned Mr Yakub for coming up with what he termed “unthinkable”, arguing that the party leadership had not sanctioned such a plan.
“It is unthinkable that such a thought would cross the mind of our party. We, as a party, are great believers in the term limits as enshrined in the Constitution. No party official nor party organ has sat down to start imagining we can change the term limits. The idea expressed by the MP is entirely his own and must be condemned. We remain committed to the ideal of constitutionalism and rule of law,” Mr Baya explained.
Azimio MPs continued to condemn the proposal, saying it is a serious threat to democracy which will be rejected from all corners.
“It’s a diversionary tactic used in politics. He (President Ruto) wants to divert our attention from his poor performance. He doesn’t want us to question what’s going on in the country,” ODM chairman John Mbadi said.
National Assembly Minority Leader Opiyo Wandayi warned against such a proposal, saying it will be met with stiff resistance from Kenyans.
“We know it is going to come. We knew it will come and we are ready for it. Any attempt to introduce a Bill to scrap presidential term limits will be met with the full force of our members and Kenyans,” Mr Wandayi said in Parliament yesterday.
National Assembly Minority Whip Junet Mohamed laughed off the plans, saying the presidential term limit is cast in stone and cannot be easily changed.
Makueni Senator Dan Maanzo termed the proposal “totally ridiculous” and “next to impossible”.
ODM secretary-general Edwin Sifuna said: “Let them bring it first then we shall see what next. We will not waste time on roadside or funeral declarations.”
The two-term limit came into effect ahead of the 1992 elections, following the repeal of section 2A of the old constitution. The 2010 Constitution maintained the presidential term limit.
According to Article 142 of the Constitution, the President shall hold office for a term beginning on the date on which the President is sworn in, and ending when the person next elected President is sworn in.
The Article goes ahead to state that a person shall not hold office as president for more than two terms.
Prof James ole Kiyiapi, who ran for President in 2013, said: “Let us not waste time on mundane matters when the country is dealing with the severest drought we have seen this century. Presidential term limits is a settled matter. Another debate?”
Constitutional lawyer Bobby Mkangi, who sat in the Committee of Experts that drafted the Constitution, said anything touching on the term limit of the President has to be decided by Kenyans via a referendum, either through the parliamentary or popular initiative route.
“Final say is with the people on such a proposal regardless of where it has been initiated,” said Mr Mkangi.
Article 255 says a proposal to amend the Constitution should be enacted in accordance with Article 256 or 257, and approved in accordance with clause (2) by a referendum, if the amendment relates to the term of office of the President, the supremacy of the Constitution, the territory of Kenya and the sovereignty of the people, among others.
Belgut MP Nelson Koech, another senior member of President Ruto’s inner circle, said there are many pressing issues and scrapping presidential term limits is not among the matters to be discussed now.
“There are more pressing issues than term limits and power. My colleague, however, has his own mind and is well within his democratic right to advance any proposal he has. It is, however, a no from me,” said Mr Koech, who also chairs the House Defence, Intelligence and Foreign Relations committee.
Kimilili MP Didmus Barasa, another ally of the President, said Mr Yakub should not be taken seriously, arguing that the Fafi lawmaker was seeking publicity.
The debate also caught the attention of Ugandan opposition politician Bobi Wine, who said the legislator might be ridiculed, but that is how dictatorship begins.
“Dear Kenyans, be vigilant. Save your country from Musevenism. This may come off as a lone MP making a ridiculous suggestion, but this is how it starts. Exactly how Museveni began schemes to remove term and age limits. Defend your Constitution before it is too weak to defend you,” said Mr Wine.