Kenya : Constitution and politics


Republic with Executive President
Parliament of Kenya
12 December 1963

The constitution in force until August 2010 had been amended many times since the republic was formed in December 1964. It provided for the unicameral National Assembly consisting of 210 members directly elected every five years and 12 non-constituency members appointed by the President, plus the Speaker and Attorney-General. The multiparty system was introduced in December 1991.

The President – directly elected and limited to two five-year terms – is head of state, head of the cabinet and commander-in-chief of the armed forces, and appoints the Vice-President and cabinet. However, under the internationally-brokered power-sharing agreement, a grand coalition government, comprising President and the new post of Prime Minister, was established in March 2008.

A commission was set up in 2000 to draw up a new constitution, which – following a constitutional court ruling in March 2004 – would be subject to a national referendum. Draft constitutions were discussed at a series of constitutional conferences. The new constitution that was approved by the National Assembly in April 2010, endorsed by the electorate in the national referendum on 4 August 2010 and promulgated on 27 August 2010 provides for reduction of the President’s power; abolition of the post of Prime Minister (after the March 2013 election); an expanded National Assembly (to 350 seats); creation of a Senate with 68 members; significant devolution of power to new county authorities (to be overseen by the Senate); recognition of faith courts; a bill of rights; and creation of a supreme court, a new anti-corruption agency, and an independent land commission to promote land reform.

These new provisions were to be implemented in a timetable spanning up to five years, most provisions coming into force after the elections of March 2013. The implementation process is being overseen by two bodies, the Commission for the Implementation of the Constitution and the Commission on Revenue Allocation.

General elections were held in Kenya on 8 August 2017 to elect the President, members of Parliament and devolved governments. The reported results indicated that incumbent President Uhuru Kenyatta was re-elected with 54% of the vote. His main opponent, Raila Odinga, refused to accept the results and contested them in the Supreme Court.

The results of the presidential election were subsequently annulled and fresh elections were ordered to be held within 60 days. It was later announced that a new election would be held on 17 October. However, the results of the parliamentary and local elections remained valid. The date for the presidential election was later changed to 26 October 2017. Despite the ruling for a new Presidential election, Odinga later announced his decision to withdraw from the repeat election on 10 October.


At his third attempt, in a relatively peaceful contest, Mwai Kibaki, the candidate of the National Rainbow Coalition (NARC), comfortably won the presidential election in December 2002, with 62.2 per cent of the votes, while Uhuru Kenyatta (the son of Kenya’s first President), standing for the Kenya African National Union (KANU), received 31.3 per cent. The National Rainbow Coalition gained a substantial majority in the parliamentary elections, winning 125 seats; KANU took 64 and FORD–People 14 (Forum for the Restoration of Democracy). The Commonwealth observer group present commended the Electoral Commission, said that the elections ‘represented a major improvement on previous such exercises’ and described the electoral process as credible.

In a referendum in November 2005 a proposed new constitution was decisively rejected. Opposition to this constitution was led by a new grouping, the ‘Orange team’, comprising Uhuru Kenyatta’s KANU and the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), a party with members in Kibaki’s cabinet. Kibaki then dismissed his cabinet. When in December he formed a new cabinet he excluded opponents of the new constitution (mainly LDP members) and included members of minority parties to shore up support for his government.

In 2007, when elections were due, the Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) led by Raila Odinga and Orange Democratic Movement–Kenya (ODM–K) led by Kalonzo Musyoka emerged as the main opponents to Mwai Kibaki and his newly formed coalition, the Party of National Unity (PNU). The PNU included KANU which had earlier left the Orange team, FORD–Kenya, NARC–Kenya (an offshoot of NARC) and several smaller parties. Tensions were high in the pre-election period, with outbreaks of violence.

Following a relatively peaceful polling day on 27 December 2007, the Orange team decisively won the parliamentary elections; ODM took 99 seats and its partner NARC three. The ruling PNU took 43 seats and its coalition partners 35 seats. Of the remaining constituencies declared, ODM–K won in 16 and independents in 11. A re-run was ordered in the three undeclared constituencies.

Unofficial results of the presidential election indicated Raila Odinga led Kibaki by at least 200,000 votes and the absence of any official declaration provoked widespread unrest in the country. When on 30 December 2007 the Electoral Commission published results, Kibaki was ahead with 4,584,721 votes, then Odinga with 4,352,993 and Musyoka with 879,903. Commonwealth observers noted that the elections were ‘the most competitive in the country’s history’ but raised doubts on the handling of the final stages of the presidential election, particularly the delay in announcing the results.

Protests about the presidential election results erupted and intensified in a period that became one of the most violent since independence and hundreds of people were killed. Some of the violence assumed an ethnic dimension with the Kikuyu perceived as pro-Kibaki and the Luo as Odinga supporters. The opposing leaders eventually agreed to work together in a power-sharing coalition government with Kibaki as President and Odinga as Prime Minister. The agreement was brokered by a group of eminent persons led by former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan. In March 2008 the National Assembly enacted a law to formalise the deal. Odinga subsequently became Prime Minister in a grand coalition government.

The presidential election held in March 2013 was won in the first round by Uhuru Kenyatta, the candidate of the Jubilee Coalition. He secured 50.1 per cent of votes cast; Raila Odinga of the Coalition for Reforms and Democracy (CORD) took 43.3 per cent and Musalia Mudavadi of Amani 3.9 per cent. Turnout was 86 per cent.

In the simultaneous elections to the National Assembly the Jubilee Coalition won 167 seats, CORD 141 and Amani 24; and in the Senate Jubilee took 30 seats, CORD 28 and Amani six. Former President of Botswana, Festus Mogae, who led a Commonwealth observer group, commended the peaceful nature of the poll.

General elections were held in Ghana on 7 December 2016 to elect a President and Members of Parliament. Former foreign minister Nana Akufo-Addo of the opposition New Patriotic Party was elected President on his third attempt, defeating incumbent President John Mahama of the National Democratic Congress.

Head of government

HE Uhuru Muigai Kenyatta, President
Uhuru Muigai Kenyatta is the fourth President of Kenya. He has been in office since 9 April 2013. He previously served in the Government of Kenya as Minister for Local Government from 2001 to 2002, and he was leader of the official opposition from 2002 to 2007; subsequently he was Deputy Prime Minister from 2008 to 2013. He served as the Member of Parliament for Gatundu South Constituency beginning in 2002. Kenyatta was also Chairman of Kenya African National Union (KANU).