A bad idea from Kenya

February 5, 2008

Via Global Voices, Oscar Obonyo says:

Judging from events of the just concluded presidential polls I opine that Kenyans ought to change the existing electoral laws to subject the holder of the Office of President to elections only after a straight term of ten years.
Why cant we face it? That an African President “cannot lose” an election and revise our electoral rules accordingly.

I agree that the possibility of reelection for incumbents in countries with a strong executive is a recipe for meaningless elections. And it does make sense to set up term limits accordingly. What I don’t understand is why Obonyo proposes a single ten years term and not just a single five years one. May be he simply doesn’t know that some countries did or do set up limits on consecutive terms. As a matter of fact, most latin american countries have during the past century adopted such a measure to prevent election-related troubles and the rise of life-presidents. Venezuela from 1959 to Chavez, Costa Rica since 1948, Panama since 1989, Colombia from 1910 to 2005 all have experienced stability and peaceful regime changes (and even economic growth) thanks to it. Mexico went even further as it bans any previous president, even provisional ones from assuming office a second time. Why don’t we learn from those examples ?

I also think the talk about term limits is a bit overrated. For one, changing the president is not changing the regime, as the long rule of CMM in Tanzania, BDP in Botswana or the even longer PRI rule in Mexico has shown. And even in real competitive set-up, nothing prevents the incumbent from rigging elections to favour his hand-picked successor (Preval’s first term in Haiti and the most recent Nigerian election come to mind). And I’m really surprised designing systems that would limit presidential powers is never part of those debates.


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