Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The majority Leader is Key to Good Governance post-2012

Parliament is set to undergo a revolution in the manner in which business is conducted after the next general election. The Executive will not be represented in Parliament. The role of the Executive will be to govern, while that of Parliament will be to legislate. While the Senate will enjoy prestige, especially because Senators will represent a larger geographical area compared to MPs in the National Assembly, it is the latter that will have actual clout, and the Leader of the Majority Party will enjoy powers of patronage that had previously been the preserve of the President (and Prime Minister post-2008).

The Constitution separates the roles of the various institutions. The President and Deputy President do not have a place in the Legislative Branch of government. The members of the Legislative Branch do not have a place in the Executive Branch either. Neither of the two can hold positions of authority in the political party. Therefore, all three can play the roles that are ideally suited to them. The political party will be relegated to the role of managing the political process separate from the role of governing. Party chairmen are set to enjoy clout at the expense of sitting MPs or Senators in matters dealing with party ideology, party policy, and party management. The feared days of party disciplinary committees are set to return, but within the rubric of rules and regulations that all agree to live by.

Patrick Gichohi, the Clerk of the National Assembly, in this month's Nairobi Law Monthly, alludes to the important changes that will be ushered when the Congressional system takes effect in 2013. He describes the stalemate that President Bill Clinton found himself in after the takeover of Congress by the Republican Party after the 2006 mid-term elections when the government was forced to shut down for three months because the President and Congress failed to agree on a budget on time. It was the role played by Newt Gingrich that defined the relationship between the Executive and Legislative branches that will be the defining feature of Kenya's system when it comes to pass.

The Leader of the Majority Party in Kenya's Parliament will play a leading role in determining the success or failure of the legislative agenda of the Executive Branch. It is presumed that the President's and Deputy President's party will command a majority in the National Assembly and in the Senate. Therefore, a proper working relationship between the President and the Majority Leaders in either House will be crucial in shepherding the Executive's agenda through Parliament. If for whatever reason the President fails to inspire the Majority Leader to see things his way, his agenda may be held hostage to forces that he can neither control or intimidate. It will then be left to the party chairman to issue a whip regarding the matter, which either would be foolhardy to ignore.

But it is in the patronage powers of the Majority Leader that he steals a march of the President. The President cannot appoint anyone to the Cabinet or any other national post without the support of the Majority Leader as all his nominees must be successfully vetted and approved by the National Assembly. However, the majority Leader does not suffer from this constraint when it comes to making appointments to Parliamentary Committees. He can hire and fire at will, unless the Standing Orders are re-written to whittle down his clout. He will be free to decide who gets to chair which committee, even within the confines of the gender equity provisions of the Constitution, and only those Members of parliament or Senators who meet with his favour will serve as Chairmen. This is also the happy position that the Minority Leader finds himself in vis-a-vis the deputy chairmanships of these Committees. In all this, the President and Party Chairman have very little influence.

The success or failure of the President's agenda is very much in the hands of the Majority Leader. It is in this respect that reform of the political party becomes critical. If the party is clear on its ideology, on the policies that it will pursue if it comes to power, and on the necessity of playing by the rules, then the roles of the President and majority Leader will be complementary as opposed to confrontational. If political parties are not reformed to give the party memberships a bigger say on ideology or policy, the President may end up with a hostile parliament whether or not his party enjoys a majority or not. In the remaining period before the next general election, it is imperative that all political parties engage in a programme to reform these parties, with a view to pushing up their memberships, especially with the recruitment of middle-class professionals, as well as reforming their party constitutions with a view to democratising the entire process of nominating and supporting individual candidates and party officials. If this is not done soon, 2012 may mark the beginning of turbulent times in the relationship between the Executive and Legislative Branches which may herald the beginning of political turmoil that may imperil the whole nation.

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