What you need to know:
- In this high-stakes game of cards and thrones, DP Ruto and Raila must carefully consider every MP pick for the sake of future government stability.
The expected creation of a Prime Minister (PM) post will likely present a major headache for presidential contenders in the 2022 elections. Here's why.
Apart from worrying about their campaigns for high office, the presidential candidates will be forced to closely monitor parliamentary campaigns because the outcome will impact the stability of their government.
The PM’s slot will expectedly be the key carrot presidential hopefuls will dangle to secure support from regional kingpins. The relatively powerful seat is also central to cobbling a pre-election coalition.
But while each presidential candidate will name a power lineup – and in the case of a pre-election coalition agreement, deposit it with the registrar of political parties – the eventual office holder will be dependent on the outcome of parliamentary polls.
A Prime Minister shall be appointed by the President from the majority party, which means any presidential contender promising the post to any region must also ensure they can honour the promise by marshalling support for the party’s or coalition’s parliamentary candidates.
A situation where a candidate wins the presidency, but their party or coalition fails to get a majority in Parliament – as happened in 2007 when President Mwai Kibaki’s Party of National Unity (PNU) got far fewer seats than his main challenger, Mr Raila Odinga’s ODM – would be problematic.
It would mean that the new leader starts their presidential term at a disadvantage, having to negotiate with rivals who would essentially blackmail them.
This is because it’s expected that the nominee for Prime Minister shall not assume office until his or her appointment is first confirmed by a resolution of the National Assembly supported by an absolute majority vote by MPs.
The Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) team anticipated a situation where the President may face a hostile parliament, but offered no remedy.
“A measure to ensure that this process (where the House repeatedly fails to confirm a PM nominee) is not indefinite, and that governance is continuous, should be considered,” states the BBI report.
Failure by the President-elect to deliver the Premier’s seat to the promised MP, who would probably have been instrumental in the presidential campaigns, could lead to political backlash from the region that will likely feel shortchanged.
This could set off bickering reminiscent of the dishonoured memorandum of understanding that sowed the seeds of discord between former President Kibaki and Mr Odinga under the Narc government.
It would be worse for the President-elect if the rival party or opposition coalition with the majority were to choose to arm-twist him or her to elect their own as PM, considering the Premier “shall have supervision and execution of the day-to-day functions of government”.
'Costly to rig'
To avoid this kind of logjam, a presidential candidate must ensure the party fields strong candidates for constituency seats, which means it would now be costly for party leaders who rig party primaries to impose their unpopular friends and cronies.
This could work against strong backers of the top leaders in hostile political turfs – like the Jubilee leaders in Mt Kenya and Western MPs who have stood by Deputy President William Ruto despite intimidation by President Uhuru Kenyatta’s wing.
To avoid having to deal with a hostile Parliament, Mr Odinga’s ODM, as well as strategists allied to Dr Ruto and his boss, President Uhuru Kenyatta, who is keen on influencing his succession, are working to identify strong parliamentary candidates who will be backed by the presidential campaign machinery to secure the seats at the next polls.
Jubilee vice-chairman David Murathe, who backs Mr Odinga for the top office, has spoken out about their game-plan, which reserves the PM’s post for Mt Kenya. In the envisioned power team, the two deputy PMs would go to Coast and Western.
Is he running or not?
While Mr Odinga has not announced his intention to run for the top job, his elder brother, Dr Oburu Oginga, as well as trade unionist Francis Atwoli, have declared that the former PM is in the race to succeed President Uhuru Kenyatta.
Mr Odinga will have to convince the populous Mt Kenya region not only on his ability to win, but also most importantly, that he can marshal the requisite numbers in the National Assembly to guarantee the region’s ascension to the PM post.
The Garissa Senator Yusuf Haji-led BBI Steering Committee had proposed the creation of the premier’s post, and if retained in its June report – to be delivered to the President and Raila any time soon – the position will alter the country’s campaigns, with as much focus on MP seats as the presidential tally.
ODM secretary-general Edwin Sifuna said they are leaving nothing to chance.
“We already know about the possibility that we will have a Prime Minister’s position in the next government and that is why ODM is targeting at least 150 MPs in the next Parliament,” Mr Sifuna told the Nation.
Nyeri Town MP Ngunjiri Wambugu said the creation of the PM’s post will lead to movement into strong regional parties that come together to form a national government akin to coalitions to guarantee the required numbers in the House.
“The fact that a PM will be elected from the party (or coalition) with majority MPs will absolutely alter how we look at competitions for parliamentary seats. But more specifically, what I see happening is that coalitions will be forced to work with the party that can sweep votes in a key region or set of key regions,” Mr Ngunjiri, who is allied to President Kenyatta’s side, argued.
He believes that besides the dynamics of accommodating the PM post and other key positions in the original BBI report – which has to be adopted in a referendum – it will also alter pre-election deals in Kenya’s politics.
“When the governance structure changes to have a President, a Deputy President, a Prime Minister and two Deputy Prime Ministers, I suspect that these five will come from different parties. So what will go to the ballot will be coalitions that bring different people together to fit into these roles,” Mr Ngunjiri observed.
Battle like no other
Vocal Belgut MP Nelson Koech, a close ally of Dr Ruto, suggests the post of MP and the battle for control of the two Houses will be like no other in the 2022 polls.
“Now, more than ever before, we know the value of numbers in Parliament. Just a tilt of one or two in numbers and you could see the repercussions in the past few months,” Mr Koech argued, making reference to a purge of the DP’s allies in the House.
Majority Leaders Aden Duale (National Assembly) and Kipchumba Murkomen (Senate); majority whips Susan Kihika (Senate) and Benjamin Washiali (National Assembly) as well as numerous committee chairpersons allied to the DP were kicked out in a purge engineered by the President’s side to wrest the control of the two Houses from the DP.
With hindsight, Mr Koech believes, every presidential candidate will not leave numbers in Parliament to chance – never again.
“Numbers are a matter of life and death, really, going forward. I, therefore, expect minimal antagonism and interference by party bigwigs especially during primaries for fear of a revolt during the main election where parties end up losing to independent or unfavourable parties,” Mr Koech argued.
The proposed Prime Pinister shall also be the Leader of Government Business in the National Assembly.
On the President’s direction, the November 2019 BBI report indicated the Prime Minister shall chair Cabinet sub-committees.
Mr Koech, however, warned that as proposed, the post was not lucrative and, therefore, unattractive.
“As it is right now, the PM will be a mere nominee by the President and can be dropped at will. There is equally no obligation for the President to appoint ministers aligned to the PM with the draft we have now. So unless they change that in the final draft, we have such a weakened premier position that serves nothing but creates confusion in our governance structure,” Mr Koech said.
Kenya last had a Prime Minister in the Grand Coalition government following the disputed 2007 presidential polls, the post having been abolished in the early years of the Jomo Kenyatta presidency, when Mzee took over the powers of the PM and those of President and placed them under his wing as an imperial, powerful Head of State.
The PM’s post in the Grand Coalition government, former deputy PM Musalia Mudavadi says, had its challenges that need to be addressed before Kenya embraces another such post.
“It reached a point when, when the Prime Minister was to chair Cabinet sub-committees, ministers from the other party feigned commitments elsewhere,” Mr Mudavadi said of the 2007-2013 government.
To address this, the Amani National Congress (ANC) leader said the position should be made non-executive, with the Premier’s roles clearly defined.
“We are strictly opposed to any attempt to create multiple, conflicting or ambiguous centres of State authority. The Head of State must also be the head of government and commander-in-chief of the Defence Forces. This authority must not be shared or open to multiple interpretations,” Mr Mudavadi told the BBI steering committee.
He warned that an executive Prime Minister serving under an elected President would create two centres of power that would be difficult to manage.
“If Kenya were to create the office of the Prime Minister, it should be in a structure that will not have any filibustering, lest you create a bureaucracy that will not function,” Mr Mudavadi said in his memorandum to the Haji-led team.
The Kalonzo Musyoka-led Wiper warned that the holder of the office of PM should be insulated from arbitrary sacking by the President.
The premier, he said, should coordinate national government business in Parliament and should only be fired through a motion approved by at least two-thirds of the members of Parliament.
“As proposed by the BBI, why would anybody want to be Prime Minister if you can be fired at any time by the President, and then you are still asked to be just an ordinary member of Parliament with no extra allowances?” asked Mr Musyoka in his presentation to the BBI team.