Whose IDEA was the Pure Presidential System? All indications are they were Odinga’s!

Calls for a referendum to decide which system Kenya should adopt continue to illicit sharp reactions in the country as citizens weigh in he implications of the activity which may again lead to months, even years of protracted political campaigns.

When last week former Prime Minister Raila Odinga called  for a constitutional referendum in order to change the current mode of governance from a Presidential System of governance to a Parliamentary mode of governance, where MPs will be choosing the Head of State instead of Kenya’s electorate, few did not imagine it would be culminate so fast to a national issue with the current undertones attached to it.

The controversial call for a referendum has renewed political rivalry between CORD and Jubilee alliances which was partly buried after the hotly contested March 4th election. Already, President Kenyatta has fired back, accusing the CORD leader of wanting to put the country on a permanent political mode.

“The elections are over and even I have refrained from politicising issues but I’ve had enough – give Kenyans a break!” said a visibly agitated President.

But an interesting twist to the referendum debate is slowly taking shape, with those in the know saying it was Raila Odinga who gave the pure presidential system a lease of life during constitutional debates in the run-up to the last referendum.

One voice who captured the deliberations on the pure presidential system  vis-a-vis the parliamentary system was former prime minister’s advisor on coalition affairs, Miguna Miguna. After a rancorous fallout, Miguna put his recollections about the intrigues of the last Grand Coalition in his widely acclaimed memoir, Peeling Back the Mask: A Quest for Justice in Kenya. In the book Miguna paints Raila Odinga as incurable flip flopper who does not have a permanent stand on things that touch on the common Mwananchi.

In one of the pages of the incisive book, Miguna who was Raila’s political advisor during the constitutional negotiations in 2009-10, ODM leaders were rooting for a Parliamentary System but it was Raila who changed that position at the last minute.

Here is an excerpt from Miguna’s Miguna’s memoir……..

“It was in the course of the Harambee House
negotiations where these documents were tabled
that Raila dropped the ball. As people were
debating and discussing, Raila suddenly said: “Your
Excellency, I have a suggestion to make. I’m not
sure if the suggestion will be accepted or rejected,
but I get the feeling that we are not making
progress. What would the PNU team’s response be
if we, the ODM side, suggested that we adopt a pure
presidential system?”
Raila finished and fiddled with his pen. There was
complete silence. Everyone was shocked. Uhuru was
the first to recover and he said: “Your Excellency
maybe our side need time to consult briefly before
we can comment on the suggestion. But for the
record, the PNU team appreciates the ODM’s
realisation that the presidential system is best for
this country.”
“OK, OK. We can break for a few minutes,” the
President said. The President and his PNU team left
the room. The ODM team talked in hushed tones,
mostly agreeing with Raila. I held my tongue
briefly. I knew that Raila had betrayed us again.
When the PNU team returned, they stated that they
were grateful for ODM’s climb-down and would
support the decision. Raila, Mudavadi, Ngilu,
Mutakha and I then proceeded to his Treasury
Building office for a prognosis. And it was there
that Raila really shocked me. As soon as we sat
down and started discussions, with Mutakha and I
pointing out the “difficulties we will face trying to
convince our people to support a presidential
system that had all along been identified with the
PNU team and which ODM had criticised before,”
Raila became agitated and growled: “Miguna, you
can’t win all the time; ok? Henry [Kosgey]
complained to me that you were rude to him the
other day. In your so-called classical examples, you
had removed all power from the President and gave
it over to the Prime Minister. This is an elected
President, yet he has no power. Leave this to
politicians…We will explain the decision to the
people.” Raila was clearly angry with me”…………………

Based on Miguna’s book, it was Raila who called for a Presidential System of Government. But, one may argue; the yes team who campaigned for the adoption of the referendum often said the document would be “perfected over time”.

As the debate continues, it would be important for people to be told how and at what time the parliamentary system was discarded.

By Ojwang’ Ndege.



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