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A Look at the Presidential System of Government in Kenya

We have a presidential system in Kenya rather than a parliamentary system. The president heads the government and the state, The executive and the legislature are separate and independent. However, the legislature can impeach the president.

The president is not responsible to parliament and cannot dismiss or dissolve it. The president in a presidential system has veto power. That is, he or she can block laws that would require a parliamentary (super) majority to overturn.

Parliament has more power and plays a major oversight role over the executive arm of government. The law limits presidential powers. He or she cannot issue certain orders or institute certain policies without the authorization of parliament.

The major characteristic of the presidential system is that people directly elect the president. In a parliamentary system, parliament or a select body set for that purpose appoints the president. The elections for the president are specific and fixed.

In circumstances leading to the inability of the president to rule, the vice president takes over in a presidential system.

The heads of ministries (known as cabinet secretaries) are only answerable to the president, They are not members of the legislature and they establish departments within their ministries. These departments implement government policy.

The functions of the president in the parliamentary system are largely ceremonial. For example, they appointment Ministers (or Cabinet Secretaries) and preside over official functions.

In Kenya, the president has both executive and ceremonial powers. S/he is the head of state and government. They can hire and fire certain public officials such as Cabinet Secretaries and the Attorney General. S/he is the Commander-in-Chief of the Kenya Defense Forces, a ceremonial role.

Kenya has a parliament with two chambers or houses: the Senate and the National Assembly. The law is not specific on which of the two Houses is superior (Upper House).  Based on the functions both chambers perform, the National Assembly appears superior to the senate, by practice rather than law.

Kenya borrows from the Westminster form of government. Parliamentary debates are often adversarial based on government and opposition sides. The voting system adopts a single candidate to represent a group of people in a certain geographical jurisdiction. An example is one MP for each Constituency.

Plenary sessions are more important than committee sessions. Hansard Records are kept for plenary sessions for both Houses of Parliament. These plenary sessions form a basis to gauge the general performance of MPs.

Advantages of a presidential system of government in Kenya

The people elect the president, which represents a strong, legitimate, and authoritative mandate.

The independence of the executive and the legislature reduces instances of abuse of power. The two arms, by the nature of their independence, can monitor and impose checks and balances on each other. Parliament uses its super majority vote to check on the presidency. The president uses his or her veto power to check on parliament.

Decision-making is quick and speedy because the president can enforce decisions more rapidly. At other times, the president does not necessarily have to consult parliament. The decision-making process is slow in the instance where the president hails from a political party with a minority in parliament.

The presidential system puts the presidency in a more politically stable position than the parliamentary system. In the parliamentary system, the president can be dismissed anytime. Obviously, because s/he is appointed rather than elected.

How Kenya addresses disadvantages of the presidential system

The presidential system often leans towards dictatorship and authoritarianism. This is because the law vests much power in one person, i.e. the president. It is hard to replace the president until their term is over.

In Kenya, the law diminished much of the power held before by the president. The law delegated much of the executive power to independent bodies and devolved units. The Constitution safeguards the independence of such bodies and the devolved units. This ensures that the national government does not influence or interfere in their operations.

Political parties form coalitions or merge together to gain numbers in parliament. This addresses the problem of slow decision-making. It also makes the work of the president and the executive easier if the ruling party or coalition has the majority of members in parliament.

Written by George Githinji

Githinji is passionate about devolved governance, public finance and cycling. He comments on topical socio-political issues in Kenya. In addition, he manages the @UgatuziKenya platform.

Follow Me → @EpiQKenyan

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