Kenya’s MPs not bad boys and girls, it is voters who actually spoilt them

Once again, Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki has ridden to the rescue.

On Tuesday, he refused to assent to the Finance Bill in which MPs had given themselves a controversial sweetheart bonus totalling $25 million at the end of their term early next year.

The President’s action came in the wake of widespread criticism and even demonstrations against the MPs’ action. The MPs were accused of being reckless, selfish, and greedy.

But if one just steps back a little and takes a dispassionate view of things, Kenyans are actually getting what they voted for.

To begin with, one of the most striking things watching the Kenyan reform movement as an outsider is the way there was a near-obsession with “trimming the powers of the imperial presidency”. Kenya’s Big Men have tormented the people in the past, so that is perfectly understandable.

One aspect of that was to remove power from the President to dissolve and summon Parliament at whim, and to give MPs a lot more control over the Executive.

During the 2007 elections, Kenyan voters put controls on the Executive by voting for a divided government: Prime Minister Raila Odinga’s ODM won the majority of parliamentary seats, while President Kibaki’s PNU came second.

It is ironical that the presidency, which is supposed to embody villainy, is now the only recourse people can appeal to contain a runaway Parliament.

We have seen this many times. Not too long ago, when the infamous “Media Bill” that brought journalists to the streets in protest was passed, we the media, pitched camp at Kibaki’s front lawn, until he refused to sign the Bill.

Consider, for example, what happened to assistant minister Martin Shikuku in October 1975 when he described the then-ruling party, Kanu as “dead”.

When MPs demanded that he substantiates, Deputy Speaker Jean-Marie Seroney jumped to Shikuku’s defence. Shikuku lost his ministerial job and both men were detained without trial for three years.

It is a sign of how much democracy has grown in Kenya that neither Kibaki nor PM Raila can do that today to their party members, and ministers.

Why? Because Kenyans did them in. In 2008, neither the President nor PM had enough MPs in the House to crack the whip. This was very evident during the March 2008 elections for Speaker.

In the first round of voting, Mr Kenneth Marende, an ODM candidate, got 104 votes. Mr Francis ole Kaparo, the PNU-supported candidate, got 99.

Spoilt brats

In the second round, Marende remained at 104, while Kaparo’s count climbed to 102. Marende won it in the third round, with 105 to Kaparo’s 101.

Both Kibaki and Raila were living dangerously. Today, the defections have weakened them in Parliament further, and strengthened the MPs’ hands. Raila cannot face off with his remaining MPs because he would become vulnerable.

PNU’s ranks are even more denuded, especially following Deputy Prime Minister Uhuru Kenyatta’s formation of The National Alliance (TNA), to which several PNU MPs have defected.

The result is that the few MPs remaining in the older parties have become spoilt brats, pampered by the leaders.

And the leaders of the new parties to which MPs are defecting are so grateful to have them, they treat them like princelings and princesses, mollycoddling them and stroking their egos.

None of this would have happened had Kenyan voters handed their parties larger majorities. Take even the December 2007 election. Kibaki was declared winner with 4,584,721 votes while Odinga was second with 4,352,993 — a difference of just 231,728 votes.

You give a President such a narrow margin, you limit his legitimacy. Of course, there was a dispute over that result, leading to the post-election violence of early 2008.

In any sense, the cause of the minuscule presidential victory margins, and the deadlock in Parliament, are a result of the regional voting patterns.

When a parties and candidates can sweep all the votes in selected regions, they usually end up evenly matched. That dramatically increases the premium of MPs, and allows them to become prima donnas.

cobbo@ke.nationmedia.com& twitter@cobbo3

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