Sunday, November 15, 2009

Do away with constituencies to end tribal politics

By Wangari Maathai

This country is threatened. And it is not because we have an unbearable Constitution or electoral boundaries. It is because we as citizens and micro-nations whose political, economic needs and interests are not being protected by the current Constitution and the electoral boundaries. That is why we are clamouring for a new political order.

Our politicians govern the country by mutilating and manipulating the Constitution and electoral boundaries as well as playing divisive tribal politics.

But every so often, we go through a ritual to collect and collate views from citizens even though we know eventually the constitution and electoral boundaries will have to be agreed on by tribal chiefs.

If politicians do not get the constitution or the electoral boundaries they want, they advise their ethnic communities to reject the document.

Unfortunately, we are doing the current exercise in the middle of long-standing deep ethnic divisions, suspicion and hatred. The post-election violence and the hovering ICC make the environment unfriendly. We are craving for a leadership that can provide security, equity and justice.

Some countries have created constitutions and electoral boundaries that have been protected from the greed and selfishness of politicians. Strong institutions have been put in place to prevent manipulation or mutilation of the constitution or gerrymandering the electoral boundaries.

The constitution of the US was crafted by leaders of vision. It has served them for more than 200 years.

The documents that will be crafted are not the problem. If there were selfless, committed and visionary leaders, they would have been improving on the independence constitution. Instead, the Constitution and electoral boundaries have been treated as a means to power and privilege. Therefore, they are constantly re-written to meet new aspirations, greed and selfishness.

What Kenyans have experienced is bad governance, ethnic-based politics, tribal clashes, massacres, gender violence, poverty, economic stagnation and impunity.

Legislators should compete along political party lines and parties should be forced to seek support on the basis of their agendas, not tribal affiliation. The number of MPs should reflect the capacity of the country so that MPs do not overburden citizens with taxes and debts. The party that will have the most number of MPs should form the Government and provide a Prime Minister.

Electoral commission

This will make every vote count and parties will work hard to ensure they get as many votes as they can from every part of the country. This would serve the principles of one man, one vote, and no taxes without representation. Every vote will be important to the party rather than to an individual MP.

To make representation fair and just, an independent electoral commission should look into other relevant issues such as geography, density and special needs. The number of MPs should be fixed. Parliament has already approved that constituency boundaries serve as administrative boundaries (districts) and be centres of local authorities for the devolved government. What is important here is to empower these local authorities, community leaders and interest groups by having their roles clearly defined and protected from interference. That way, they would be able to manage the day-to-day responsibility of the devolved government. The devolved government should create boundaries, guided by their capacities and resources.

Kenyans have clearly said they want to elect their President. The President should be sponsored by a political party, and like MPs, his constituency should be the Republic. Kenyans also want presidential powers devolved and to have a president who is popular and able to unite the country. The President should get 50 per cent plus one vote to be declared winner.

To eliminate transportation of votes or double voting, voters should be able to vote from any polling station as long as they have the necessary voting documents. This would also make gerrymandering of electoral boundaries an exercise in futility.

It is important to empower the three arms of Government by clearly defining their roles so there is clear balancing of power and responsibilities, and capacity to ensure they do not interfere with other organs of governance.

Eliminating electoral constituencies for MPs would put an end to tribal power bases (and warlords). Eliminating constituencies has the potential of detribalising politics and giving every vote the same respect and power.


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