Current personalities struggling for presidential power evolved from elite families involved in the struggle for Kenya’s independence.
Since the 1992 multiparty elections, Kenya polls are marred by allegations of rigging, ballot stuffing, and protest that progresses to violence. The most prominent bone of contention in all these elections is the election of a president. The tribal rhetoric in the August 8th elections was no different from the previous elections. Kenya is an ethnically divided society and members of the communities pin all their hopes behind individuals from their communities, ignoring important policy issues.
Kenyans went to the polls on August 8th elected leaders to the county government and National Assembly.Though a record 98 MPs, 11 women reps, 129 MCAs and 31 out of 47 governors, will have to fight election petitions filed in court to challenge their win, this exercise of law has mostly been peaceful.
So, why are presidential elections in Kenya so controversial?
The distrust of the electoral system of government has existed in Kenya before independence. Accusations of ballot stuffing, the killing of opponents and outright rigging have been reported in elections in the 1960s mainly in the elections of MPs. The multiparty era seems to have shifted the most of the controversies from the election of MPs to the presidential elections.
Post-independence Kenya has been an authoritarian state with the distribution of resources and the disparities of allocation of this resources arising from the calculations about winners and losers. Kenyan’s still view the central government as the primary driver of economic activity despite the 2010 devolution of powers. The contestation of the state control through ethnic mobilization in 2017 proves that the fruits of devolution are yet to be realized in Kenya.
Though much has been done to legitimize the electoral process including creating an Independent electoral institution (IEBC). The idea that elections are unlikely to be free and fair is one that Kenyans widely accept.
It is foolhardy to place faith in reformed electoral avenues and institutions without investing in trust. Marietje Schaake
Why should the presidential system be abolished?
Presidential elections are expensive
Kenya’s Aug. 8 general elections cost an astronomical $480 million, and the rerun presidential elections cost an additional $118 million. The IEBC used most of these Ksh billions to hire personnel, procure election materials, conduct election awareness campaigns for one election. Naturally, the price of authoritarian democracy comes at a high cost to a country with over 40% unemployed youth.
The presidential system in Kenya exacerbates the tendencies of regimes
Current personalities struggling for presidential power evolved from elite families involved in the struggle for Kenya’s independence. Both Uhuru Kenyatta and Raila Odinga are legacy children that are holding Kenya fugitive in their quest for power. It is evident that presidential elections are a struggle of the elite factions and not of the people in Kenya. The concentration of power in a single office forces soft-liners to collude with hard-liners, as neither group can claim public support in the struggle against the other. The flip-flopping of politicians in Kenya after the annulment of the August 8th election is a good example of elite collusion. Once the president is elected, even if there is disagreement and he loses support among the factions, there is no mechanism to remove the president. Furthermore, prolonged presidential terms only increase the majoritarianism of the regime, making the cost of not colluding even higher.
The current system of bargaining among elites and formation of coalitions such as Jubilee and NASA lead to the repression of minority communities. 2017 will be mainly remembered as the struggle for power by the Luos and Kikuyus. What about the other fortysomething tribes?
Switching to a political repression by decreasing the stakes in each particular election and increase the flexibility of the government. The bargaining among the elites politicians in the government formation process would happen after the elections. Thus, the elite factions would have to compete with each other for parliamentary seats. The balance of power among elites would, therefore, be determined by the voters, giving them a voice in the process.
The monarchy has failed, and the presidential system has failed the people of Kenya. It is the time to consider transitioning to a parliamentary system of government.