Should Kenya adopt a presidential, parliamentary or a hybrid executive system?

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The current debate on whether to have a presidential, parliamentary or hybrid system of government came up during our youth organization meetings leading us to research. The research shows countries around the world have chosen to govern themselves using various systems of government e.g. full presidential; presidential and a nominal prime minister; presidential-parliamentary / hybrid; parliamentary; mixed republican system; constitutional monarchies with ceremonial monarchs; constitutional monarchies with active monarchs; absolute monarchies; one-party states; and military junta states. A few countries are non-self-governing territories or colonies and protectorates.

For purpose of the ongoing Kenyan debate, our research focus was on: Full Presidential where the president is elected as the head of state and government, and remains in office independent of the legislature. Presidential and a nominal Prime Minister in which the president is both the head of state and government while the prime minister serves purely at the pleasure of the president. Presidential-Parliamentary / Hybrid system is where the president has executive authority and is independent of the legislature. The president appoints the prime minister as head of cabinet and legislature and can remove the prime minister. The president also appoints a cabinet that is not part of the legislature and the legislature can pass a vote of no confidence forcing the prime minister and cabinet to resign. Finally in a Parliamentary system, the prime minister is the active head of the executive branch of government and leader of the legislature. A ceremonial president may exist.

In Africa, 14 countries (e.g. Burundi, Liberia, Nigeria) have a full presidential system; 15 countries (e.g. Angola, Guinea-Bissau, Uganda) have a presidential system and a nominal prime minister; 16 countries (e.g. Cape Verde, Kenya, Zimbabwe) have a Presidential-Parliamentary / Hybrid; while 4 countries (Botswana, Ethiopia, Mauritius, South Africa) have a parliamentary system. In total, 94 countries (e.g. Brazil, Indonesia, and United States) worldwide lean towards a presidential system and give very little or no power to the prime minister as compared to 42 countries (e.g. Germany, India, United Kingdom) that have a parliamentary system.

The parliamentary system seems not to work worldwide without dilution of the prime minister’s role in government or without having a repetition of roles. Countries that have a presidential-parliamentary/hybrid system having a president and prime minister, still give more power to the president. There are merits and demerits in both the presidential and parliamentary systems as practiced respectively for example by the USA and Britain.

The USA presidential system has a separation of powers between the Executive and Congress, a system that has worked for 200 years without a military coup d’état; showing its strength and achievement primarily in preventing both tyranny and anarchy. However, some USA constitutionalists argue that it is rigid and out-dated, attributing to its inefficiency, presidential dictatorship, failure to implement policy by Cabinet whose Ministers are not people's representatives, unnecessary tensions and conflicts between Congress and Executive, especially when Congress is controlled by a different political party from that of the President.

Britain, a constitutional monarchy with a ceremonial monarch has a prime minister who is the active head the executive branch of government. Their type of parliamentary system is highly criticized for parliamentary dictatorship especially where a single political party commands absolute majority; excessive control of cabinet by the Prime Minister and the call for general election wherever the government losses to a vote of no confidence in Parliament.

Our youth came to the conclusion that, a presidential system that has checks and balances on the executive as the direct representative of the people, seems to work in most countries. It was also apparent that people worldwide are passionate about maintaining their power to elect their head of state and head of government. Citizens’ having absolute power to choose their executive ultimately creates the best check and balance in maintaining accountability; preventing dictatorship and/or rogue leaders proclaiming themselves as executive president when they were not directly elected by the people.

With this in mind, Kenyans should seek a system of government which is in tune with the people’s aspirations, and demands effective and democratic governance. The system should emphasize the necessary cooperation among its organs to avoid dictatorship and for smooth and efficient running of government. These could include a check on:

* Presidency – determining constitutionally the duration in office, qualifications for presidential candidates, parliamentary approval of the major presidential appointments and impeachment.
* Cabinet – qualifications of ministers, parliamentary approval of policies, code of conduct, parliamentary debates and powers to reject cabinet proposals.
* Parliament – qualifications of candidates, enforcement of the code of conduct, standing committees with effective powers, periodical general elections and if necessary presidential veto to oblige parliament to rethink its position.
* Judiciary – qualification of staff, strict code of conduct, independent Judicial Commission, legal aid to all, simplification of the entire administration of justice.
* Decentralization of power – is core in creating the necessary checks and balances. Local governments that enjoy constitutional powers can become powerful checks on the National Government.

In conclusion, there is no ideal or ready-made system of checks and balances which Kenya can copy directly. However, we could borrow those elements which fit our situation and devise our own from history, culture and constitutional/political crises we have experienced. Ultimately, we have to develop a culture of integrity, political maturity, constitutionality, and vote for qualified servant leaders who are interested in our country’s well-being, if the system of government we choose is to serve Kenya for generations to come.
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