Macharia Gaitho: Do MPs live in a time warp? Kibaki will not rule for life! - The Nation

Hearing the noises coming out of our MPs now, it is apparent that they all live in a time warp.

Representatives from Central Kenya seem to be deluded that President Kibaki will either rule for life, or ensure his successor is from their region. Hence the obsession with retention of an all-powerful presidency and centralised rule.

Conversely, MPs from other regions are imbued with a Central-phobia, and they see the antidote as a neutered presidency, coupled with transferring executive power to a Prime Minister; as if the new constitution will provide that the job is reserved for Mr Raila Odinga or whoever else comes to head ODM.

Welcome back to the 2005 referendum politics of Oranges and Bananas. The new rift on constituency boundaries that has erupted and threatens the reform agenda is not merely about delineation of constituencies, but advance skirmishing on formation of the next government — the assumption being that a new constitution will transfer executive power to a premier elected by Parliament.

Under any measure, it should be a no-brainer that one-man, one-vote should represent the highest ideal of a democratic system. But then this is Kenya, the land of Byzantine ethnic intrigues.

A little background is in order. MPs from Central Kenya have launched a public campaign for the one-man, one-vote principal in the redrawing of parliamentary constituency boundaries.

The MPs took the cue from President Kibaki’s Kenyatta Day address, as summarised here: “…the need to apply the principle of one person, one vote led to the establishment of the Interim Independent Boundaries Commission in accordance with the Kriegler Report.

At the end of its work, the Boundaries Commission will hopefully give the country … approximately equal size constituencies demographically. This will give the country the fair representation our forefathers fought for.”

The Independent Review Commission (Irec) into the botched 2007 elections chaired by South African Judge Johann Kriegler had expressed amazement that Kenya had departed so substantiality from a universal tenet of democracy — equality of the vote.

That principle is recognised even by the Constitution of Kenya, which states that “All constituencies shall contain as nearly equal numbers of inhabitants as …reasonably practicable.”

Kriegler conceded that there would always be variations to take into account densely populated urban areas and thinly populated rural areas; means of communication; geographical features; community of interest; and administrative boundaries.

“THE PROBLEM IN KENYA IS THAT the maximum permitted departure is not fixed and has been seen to allow extreme differences in size: Embakasi is 351 per cent greater than the average while Lamu East is only 18 percent of the average. As a consequence, the weight of the vote cast by a Lamu East voter is nineteen times greater than that of one in Embakasi. In no other country in the world is there difference of such magnitude,” Kriegler wrote.

Kriegler, therefore, recommended that “the basic principle for the delimitation of constituencies should be the equality of the vote, and the maximum departure from that principle should be clearly defined in the law.”

There was no immediate reaction when the President spoke; but once the Central Kenya MPs took the proposal to the political soapbox, the s**t hit the fan.

MPs from Coast, North Eastern, parts of Eastern and Rift Valley went on the counter–offensive. They were breathing fireworks, seeing an ethnic agenda to increase the number of parliamentary seats in Central Kenya.

Some even threatened to lead their regions into secession if such proposals were carried through. They came up with their own riposte to the one-man one vote mantra — one kilometre, one vote.

And of course they promised to reject the proposed Constitution if it even imagined strengthening the one-man, one-vote principle. That was a threat the central Kenya MPs welcomed with gusto, for they in turn said they would reject the new law if it did not satisfy their demands.

And that might be the crux of the matter. The Central MPs provoked the debate very deliberately knowing the storm it would cause and the resultant threat to conclusion of the constitution review process.

What they are saying can be translated thus: “You can try and take away ‘our president’s’ executive power, but only if we get the strength to influence who becomes the next PM”.

Do we really need these sterile skirmishes at this stage? Can we carry out reforms without forever trying to win selfish gains or to cut others down? Can we debate policy without forever playing cheap ethnic politics?

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