The battle of bananas and oranges has been resolved in favor of the citrus. In a campaign in which the fruits were used as the symbols for the yes and no sides, respectively, voters have delivered a resounding defeat to President Mwai Kibaki’s plans to overhaul the constitution.
It is quite a remarkable turn of events. Kenya is dubiously democratic, and yet the president’s unpopularity resulted in a defeat for an ambitious political agenda. It also had split his own hand-picked cabinet, which was fired as soon as the results were known. Today the president prorogued parliament (i.e., prevented it from resuming its sessions, to thwart its becoming “an arena to fight the post-referendum war”).
Under the current constitution, the president is popularly elected, but the government structure is almost parliamentary. The President must be a member of the National Assembly, and he appoints (and may dismiss) a vice president from among the members of the National Assembly. The VP is defined as “the principal assistant of the President in the discharge of his functions.”
The president, the vice president, and all ministers (who also must be assembly members) are “collectively responsible” before the assembly, although the term seems undefined, which I take to imply that there is not a requirement for the executive to maintain assembly confidence. The president may, at any time, prorogue parliament, or dissolve it; if he dissolves, he must stand for reelection at the same time as parliament.
The proposed new constitution would have created a post of prime minister and separated the presidency from the assembly. As best I can tell, all sides agree on this principle, but disagree substantially over the relative powers of the president and prime minister. See, for example, the report of the BBC on 18 November:
Those who favour the new draft – which include much of the present Narc [National Rainbow Coalition] government – want a strong president.
Those opposed want a system of power-sharing between the president and a prime minister – a model familiar in France and much of eastern Europe.
It has sparked furious debate and violence on the streets. So far nine people, including several children, have been killed in the clashes.
All sides agree that the present constitution needs updating. The draft before the people is the product of a tangled and complex series of negotiations.
A version of the constitution calling for a dual system of power-sharing between president and elected prime minister was approved last year.
But it was overturned by President Mwai Kibaki’s supporters in parliament and re-written. The draft that is now being put to a referendum preserves the all-powerful president.
There is a draft of a proposed constitution at the site of the Constitution of Kenya Review Commission, but it is not clear if this is the version prior to, or after, the assembly’s amendedments.
As The Head Heeb notes, “Kibaki’s overreaching seems, at least for the time being, to have killed off some very necessary reforms.”
Blogs for Industry notes the stark regional divide in the outcome