Kenya - Political background

Kenya gained independence from Great Britain in 1963 and joined the British Commonwealth the following year. The country adopted a republican form of government and switched from a parliamentary to a presidential system. Jomo Kenyatta, leader of the Kenya African National Union (KANU), was the country's first leader. He remained president until his death in 1978.

The Kenyan Constitution provides for a president, elected to a five-year term and eligible for reelection. The president appoints the vice president and 12 of the 210 members of the National Assembly, the country's legislative body. Members of the National Assembly are elected by universal suffrage for five-year terms. The cabinet is a 33-member body appointed by the president. The president, vice president, and ministers must all be members of the National Assembly.

Between 1969 and 1992, KANU was the only political party allowed in Kenya. However, elections were contested by multiple candidates, and parliamentary disagreement was open and robust. A consolidation of power within the KANU leadership gradually stifled debate, and by the early 1980s, opposition to the government was considered a capital offense.

The early 1990s saw a partial reemergence of democracy in Kenya when the 1992 election was opened to other political parties. Dozens of opposition parties sought to register, and Parliament resumed lively debate. The government, however, retained the right to refuse the registration of parties it deemed "unsuitable" (i.e., a significant threat to KANU's electoral success) and used repressive laws regulating public assembly to restrict effective political action. Owing to a splintered opposition and election laws favoring KANU, KANU's success at the polls was virtually assured.

Prior to the 1997 elections, the government reformed the electoral process again and eliminated some of the most oppressive laws concerning public assembly and speech. At the time of the December 1997 elections, 26 parties had registered candidates. Ten parties held seats in Parliament.

Following the 1997 elections, pressure mounted for a participatory review of the 1963 Constitution to, among other things, curtail the powers of the president and introduce a bill of rights. Although it appeared in April 2002 that national elections would be postponed until April 2003 to allow for the drafting of a Constitution, the polls were held on 27 December 2002. Mwai Kibaki's landslide victory (with 62.2% of the vote) over KANU candidate Uhuru Kenyatta (with 31.3%) ended 24 years of KANU rule under President Daniel Arap Moi. In the parliamentary vote, Kibaki's National Rainbow Coalition (NARC) won 125 directly elected and seven appointed seats for a total of 132 seats, compared to 64 directly elected and 4 appointed seats for KANU. Overall, the polling was judged peaceful and free and fair.

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