Constitutional term limits have the effect of turning a president into a lame duck in his final term of office. The reality about the two-term presidential system is that in his first term, the president cannot be too controversial and radical in the changes he makes to the body politic. If he is, he risks alienating key supporters and losing the re-election.
But yet, once he wins the second term, the support base that helped him win now look ahead, seeking to build alliances with the ‘king in waiting’. At present, William Ruto is the most obvious and leading contender. Should he become president, he will retire in 2032, having done 20 years in the presidency, just like Kibaki (1978-1988 VP and 2003-2013 President).
When President Moi served his last term beginning 1998, he too suffered the lame duck effect, pretty much all throughout his term. Rift Valley MPs rebelled against his position habitually. For example, in 1999, 25 Kanu backbenchers refused to back the President’s request to vote against a Bill that would weaken the powers of the Executive. This was a Bill by Alego Usonga MP Peter Aringo to give Parliament greater autonomy from the Executive. Kanu MPs Cyrus Jirongo and Kipruto Kirwa were also rebels, forming their own political party United Democratic Party in 1999, ahead of the 2002 election. Simeon Nyachae, also a Kanu MP, began leading the Abagusii community away from Kanu, and ‘renting’ MPs, in preparation to contest in the 2002 election.
In Kenya we observe that although the President suffers the lame duck effect in his final term, this is compensated for by becoming a kingmaker. He plays a decisive role in shaping succession politics. And this is where President Uhuru’s power lies right now. Jomo Kenyatta fought off the Mt Kenya ‘mafia’ in the late 1970s to secure Moi’s place as successor. Moi too, had the ability to alter the course of the 2002 election. Moi was such a kingmaker that in March 2002, Raila dissolved his own party to hitch his wagon onto Kanu in the hope of becoming president. Kanu MPs and Cabinet ministers only resigned three months or so away from the December election because they realised that Moi might still have sway. And this is because Moi played his cards close to his chest. He only announced his chosen successor: Uhuru Kenyatta in October 2002.
This led to a mass walk out from the party and the formation of a super coalition that ended up winning — comprising, inter alia, Raila, Saitoti and Kalonzo. In the end, even if the realisation of Moi’s vision was deferred, Uhuru became President. Such is the power of the lame duck president. Although President Kibaki never announced his preference of who should succeed him, we can deduce that it was Uhuru Kenyatta. We deduce this from the Musalia Mudavadi MoU ploy.
The lesson politicians seem to have learnt in 2002 is that if the incumbent comes out to back you, it is more of a liability than a strength. You are tagged as a ‘project’, and so you demonstrate continuity, not change. Kibaki was therefore advised not to make his stance known. And so, he fronted Mudavadi as the successor. In the final six or so months to the March election, Kibaki would send Mudavadi to represent him at official functions and foreign events. In fact, to lend credence to this hypothesis, Uhuru publicly signed an MoU with Mudavadi in which he said he pledged to hand the presidency to him. Shortly, however, Uhuru reneged blaming it on the devil.