According to the constitution of 1963, as subsequently amended, the government of Kenya is led by a president who is chief of state, head of government, and commander-in-chief of the armed forces. The president is elected to serve a five-year term; he may, however, dissolve the National Assembly during his term, or the National Assembly may dissolve itself by a vote of no confidence, in which case a new presidential election must also be held. The president appoints the members of the cabinet (the vice president and the heads of the various ministries) from among members of the Assembly. The Assembly is barred by edict of the speaker from debating the conduct of the president. The cabinet is carefully balanced to maintain a multi-ethnic image, and the allocation of assistant ministerships is part of the communally arranged patronage system.
The unicameral National Assembly—established when the Senate and House of Representatives were merged by constitutional amendment in 1967—consisted in November 1997 of 210 members elected for a maximum term of five years, plus 12 national members nominated by the president, and selected by parties in proportion to their parliamentary vote totals. In addition, the speaker of the Assembly and the attorney general are ex-officio members. Technically, MPs are allowed to introduce legislation, but in fact it is the attorney general who does so. Suffrage is universal at age 18.
The constitution recognizes the principle of maximum allocation of governmental powers to local authorities, and provision is made for the establishment of provincial assemblies with local administrative powers. The central government may abridge or extend the powers of local government in the national interest. The next elections are expected in early 2007.