Parliament is supposed to represent us – it’s not just for them

News about our MPs is rarely positive. Recently an audit report said many MPs claim travel expenses for non-existent visits to their constituencies. Apart from the dishonesty involved, this indicates that MPs do not visit their constituencies much. But how can they understand the issues of their constituents if they do not go there? Visiting their constituencies and interacting with their constituents is essential if they are to represent us in Parliament.

Then we learned they are still perpetrating an old trick – signing up for parliamentary (or getting someone else to sign up for them) and not being there for the meetings. A total dereliction of duty, and a failure again to represent the people who elected them.

Now, apparently, a bit of a panic is on. This is because, when the IEBC finally has some commissioners, and is able to get down to revising constituency boundaries. Some constituencies are bound to disappear as separate entities, either being merged with others or even dissected and the bits joining more than one other constituency.

Why the resistance? I suspect that MPs who fear that ‘their’ seats will disappear are prominent among the objectors. As Monday’s Nation put it, “MPs race to save their own as boundary review looms.” Some people may fear that a particular party may lose a seat – the people who voted for a certain party will be eclipsed by the voters in the other constituency or constituencies they will be joining, where the majority favours a different party.


The basic constitutional idea of our electoral system is that everyone is represented in Parliament, and, as far as possible, has equal representation. So if there are 52 million Kenyans, and 290 constituencies, each member should be representing about 290,000 people (or 76,000 voters on the basis of registered voters in 2022).

If a constituency gets too big, it is important that its boundaries, and neighbouring ones, are redrawn and bits added to others. Apparently, no one is complaining about this.

If some constituencies are too small something similar should be done. It is important in any system with constituency-based representation. True we are not like the UK in the eighteenth century with its ‘pocket boroughs’ (constituencies) – so small in population that they could be controlled, electorally speaking, by a few prominent, wealthy people – or ‘rotten boroughs’ – diminished in size, or just in population, by migration probably to town, or even by falling into the sea as a result of coastal erosion.

But we do have gross discrepancies in size. This produces distortion of party support as well as geographically based representation.

Does it matter?

In a parliamentary system where government emerges from the elections to individual constituency seats, the issue is particularly important. But in Kenya the presidential election sets the basic nature of the government.

However, the president needs votes in Parliament to be able to govern – to get laws and the budget passed. And people who vote in the parliamentary election know they are not voting for the President. Quite a lot vote for someone from a different party for their MP. Are they not saying, “I want this person, who comes from this party, to be my voice in Parliament”? If most people did not vote for MPs of the President’s party or coalition, then he should not have an easy ride in Parliament.

In reality, we know, many of those MPs, especially in this Parliament, have effectively changed party – even if not officially. Basically, they have abandoned their voters. They may also have done so in other ways – like by not bothering to turn up for sessions and not visiting their constituents very often.

It is tempting to say, “It hardly matters who voted them in if this is the way they behave.” But should we just accept this as something we are stuck with? How would Kenya ever become a truly representative democracy?

Parliament does pass laws, pass budgets, and enquire into the activities of government. For these activities to have any meaning it is important that Parliament is a reflection of the country. And that is supposed to happen through elections.

Also, the Constitution says that as far as possible Kenyans’ votes should be equal, and, over time, as boundaries are adjusted, that equality should be enhanced. People who want Lamu East with its 22,000 voters to remain a constituency with one MP, while, for example, Ruiru, with 172,000 voters, does the same, are not just benefiting Lamu but depriving others of their fair share of representation.

Our present scheme is highly unbalanced for other reasons. Worst is the county women system. Again Lamu, with its one woman representative, is over-represented compared with, for example, Nairobi with more than four million people (more than two million voters) and one woman representative. This must distort the party balance in the National Assembly also.

How the CDF distorts things

If Lamu East people are strongly committed to their consistency, it may be mainly for the CDF. Similarly, during the BBI debate, people (well, MPs) in certain counties, were pushing for one person one vote (and one shilling) and arguing for extra constituencies. More jobs for their political class, and of course more CDF. This is partly because MPs have been totally unable to agree on a rational system of dividing the CDF between constituencies, as on the basis of population.

Unfortunately. many people understand only the CDF and do not understand what the true role of the MPs they elect is supposed to be. And a good number of the MPs seem to suffer from the same blinkered (and self-interested) approach.

A different way of achieving gender rule

To be frank, I am opposed to any change to the Constitution, even to achieve the two-thirds gender rule.

But if change there must be, we could do it in ways that would move us towards greater equality of representation, including party proportionality. Scrapping the women reps is essential for that. Having done that, we could move towards fewer and larger constituencies (even 145 of them) each with one man and one woman MP. It would fall short of the full equality of representation because of constituencies like Lamu – the county would still have to have two MPs.

Another way – that most focused on – would be to shift to top-up list members in sufficient numbers to ensure the gender rule is met. If women reps were done away with, the number of extras needed would be much increased. Then they should be allocated to parties, but not in proportion to the number of seats each party got, but in proportion to the number of overall votes each party got. This is a mixed member proportional system, similar to that proposed by the CKRC in 2002.

Or we could abandon top-up members in favour of a fixed number of list members, requiring that as many as necessary to meet the gender rule be taken first. Say 145 extra – making a total of 447 (with the 12 special interests members) and ensuring that the gender rule would be achieved because, if necessary, all 145 could be women. More than is ideal, but ensuring both proportionality and the gender rule.

The main disadvantage (other than excessive numbers) is that all of them – and most women in the house for the foreseeable future – would have a rather undefined role. And those members, though reflecting the way the nation voted, would not have strong connections to particular areas.

But since they would not have constituencies it would make even more sense to abolish the CDF!

It is time we stopped assuming the only way to do things is as it is now – with both MPs and people thinking that Parliament is somewhere people go to get rewarded for loyalty, having their turn to eat, and not to be conscientiously involved in governing the country for the benefit of its sovereign people.

This article was first published by the Star Newspaper

Image: FILE


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