Could Kenya enter another period of power-sharing after its general election?

kenya parliament

Much of the attention on today’s Kenyan election has focused on the presidential race — and that’s as it should be, given that Kenya’s president wields much power, and the race is essentially even between Jubilee coalition candidate Uhuru Kenyatta and the Coalition of Reform and Democracy (CORD) alliance candidate Raila Odinga.kenya

But Kenya is also holding parliamentary and local elections for the first time after adopting its new 2010 constitution, which changes much about the way that Kenya is governed, and those elections are as historic as the presidential election is frenzied.

The heart of the new electoral system is the country’s organization into 47 sub-national counties, which have been given new powers for local governance.  Indeed, today’s election will select not only new national legislators, but also a governor and county assemblies.

The electoral reforms make Kenya’s presidency less powerful, but to the benefit of the counties, not to the benefit of the parliament.

Nonetheless, the new constitution also expands the national parliament and changes the way legislators are elected, based again on the newly delineated 47 counties.

The National Assembly — what used to be Kenya’s unicameral parliament — is now just the lower house of a bicameral parliament, which will also include an upper house, the Senate, after today’s election.

The novelty of the 2010 constitutional reforms makes it even trickier to forecast what the result will be, and the nature of Kenyan politics doesn’t make it any easier.  Given that Kenyan politics is largely based on ethnic identity, the Jubilee and CORD camps are patchwork alliances of various ethnic groups throughout Kenya.  Although the alliances are technically comprised of parties, many of those parties are also ethnicity-based or even just transitory vehicles that exist to boost the career of one particular politician.

Accordingly, Kenya lacks political parties rooted on the traditional left/right ideological spectrum, unless you count the Kenya African National Union (KANU), the governing party in Kenya until 2002 — because it was the dominant party in a one-party state for much of the 1960s, through the 1990s, its predominant ideology was perpetuating its hold on power.

That means since 2002, Kenyan politics has been dominated by temporary alliances instead of enduring political parties — the National Rainbow Coalition (NARC) emerged to support the candidacy of Mwai Kibaki in 2002, and it likewise won a large majority of seats in the National Assembly.

In the aftermath of the 2007 election — widely believed to have been marred by fraud — Kibaki controversially held onto power in the presidential race, though Odinga’s Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) essentially won the parliamentary elections.  Accordingly, in early 2008, Kibaki and Odinga agreed to a power-sharing truce whereby Kibaki remained as president and Odinga would become prime minister, making Kenya one of the rare countries in Africa to feature divided government.

One of the fascinating questions this time around, given the closeness of the presidential race, is whether Kenya could see another term of split government — and what that would mean for Kenya’s governance.

If Kenyatta wins the presidency and Odinga ultimately becomes prime minister because his allies control Kenya’s parliament, it will mirror the positions each candidate’s father held exactly 50 years ago in the aftermath of independence — Jomo Kenyatta was Kenya’s first president and Jaramogi Oginga Odinga was Kenya’s first vice president.  The conserve scenario — an Odinga presidency and a Kenyatta-controlled parliament — would be perhaps an even more ironic result. Continue reading Could Kenya enter another period of power-sharing after its general election?

Stronach’s much-heralded Austrian effort falls flat in Lower Austria and Carinthia


It takes some brass for anyone, even a billionaire, to come to Austria after a lifetime in Canada thinking he can revolutionize politics, least of all as a know-it-all North American running against the euro — a monetary project infused with much more emotional and social content than just economics. austria flag

But brass runs strong in the Stronach family, and although Belinda Stronach took Canada by storm a few years ago — first as a candidate for leader of the Conservative Party and later as a minister in Paul Martin’s ill-fated Liberal government before she crashed and burned when the Liberals lost the 2006 federal election — her father, Frank Stronach, mostly seemed content as the chairman of Magna International, the hugely successful Canadian auto parts company that he founded.

Stronach, a citizen of both Canada and Austria, came to Canada at age 18 from Austria and, while he’s had an incredibly philanthropic footprint in Austria, he’s always been better known as an international businessman and billionaire than as a politician.

Until last year, when, after retiring as Magna’s chairman in 2011, Stronach founded a new party in AustriaTeam Stronach, that had its first test in local elections Sunday in Lower Austria and Carinthia, two of Austria’s nine states.  The party, which promotes classical liberalism, supports an all-volunteer army (despite a January 2013 referendum in which Austrians voted 60 to 40% to retain its current conscription force), a 25% flat tax on national incomes and, most controversially, the reintroduction of the Austrian shilling.  Unlike many far right parties in Austria and in Europe, however, Stronach’s party is pro-immigrant and, except as regards the euro, fairly pro-Europe.

The name of Frank’s new party, ‘Team Stronach’ tells you everything you need to know about the movement — it’s more an 80-year-old man’s legacy project than a protest movement like, say, Beppe Grillo’s near-revolutionary Movimento 5 Stelle (Five Star Movement) in Italy.  Even in Prague, foreign minister Karel Schwarzenberg is taken more seriously despite charges of carpetbagging — he lost the recent Czech presidential election in part because he spent over four decades of his early life outside Czechoslovakia / the Czech Republic (in Austria, of all places).

Despite a colorful collection of small parties, politics in Austria, a relatively wealthy Central European country of 8.5 million, remains essentially dominated by two parties — the center-left Sozialdemokratische Partei Österreichs (SPÖ, the Social Democratic Party) and the Christian democratic Österreichische Volkspartei (ÖVP, the People’s Party).  The SPÖ and the ÖVP have governed in a ‘grand coalition’ since 2006.

Two additional parties have historically held significant influence as well — the Freiheitliche Partei Österreichs (FPÖ, the Freedom Party), a right-wing populist party, well-known for its fiery former leader Jörg Haider, who led the party to government in 1999 and in 2002 (as a junior partner with the ÖVP), and the Greens (Die Grünen).

Austria will vote at the end of September 2013 to elect the 183 members of its lower house of parliament, the National Council (Nationalrat) — polls show the SPÖ, led by Austria’s chancellor, Werner Faymann, holds a narrow, but steady, lead (25% to 28%) over the ÖVP (with around 22% to 24%), with the FPÖ a bit behind (19% to 22%) and the Greens even further behind (13% to 15%).  Team Stronach is in fifth place — although its support is growing, it has peaked at around 8% to 12% of the vote.

Austria, unlike most European countries, is still posting economic growth — between 0.5% and 1.0% in 2012 and nearly 3.0% in 2011, despite an increasingly relentless recession throughout Europe that is now threatening to affect even Germany.  Austrian unemployment remains relatively low as well — around 9%, but still less than Italy’s unemployment.

So how did Stronach’s new party do on Sunday in Lower Austria and Carinthia? Continue reading Stronach’s much-heralded Austrian effort falls flat in Lower Austria and Carinthia