Ugly and funny impeachments across the world
- The grounds for impeachment in the case of the president are a serious crime under national or international law, gross misconduct or violation of any law.
- A motion for impeachment of a president has not yet been instituted in the 10 years since the current constitution was promulgated.
- But it would likely be an interesting one as and when it is instituted. If that ever happens.
Recently, former Kiambu Governor Ferdinand Waititu faced an impeachment trial in the Senate and was found guilty of corruption and maladministration. The Senate then resolved that the governor be removed from office.
The decision is likely to be challenged in court and will probably end up in the Supreme Court. This was the fourth time a governor had been impeached by a county assembly.At the same time as the Senate in Kenya was engaged in hearing the impeachment, the United States Senate was considering a trial of President Donald Trump on two charges of abuse of office and obstruction of congress in its work. Earlier this week, the Senate voted and did not reach the threshold of conviction which is two thirds of Senate. Therefore, the President was acquitted. President Trump was the third president to be impeached in the history of the United States. The Senate, by acquitting President Trump, joined its forbearers in the sense that no president has ever been convicted by the Senate upon impeachment by the House of Representatives.At the time of this piece, the President of Albania Illir Meta faces an impeachment inquiry, which has been going on in the Albanian Parliament since June, 2019. The grounds of this inquiry are that the President acted unlawfully by attempting to cancel municipal elections, which were scheduled for last year. But that history is upended by former South Korean President Park Geun –Hye who was impeached and thereafter removed from office by the Constitutional Court in March, 2017. Before President Geun-Hye’s impeachment, President Roh Moo Hyun had been impeached by the South Korean National Assembly for the engaging in violations of elections laws. However, the Constitutional Court dismissed the charges and reinstated him in 2004.Most impeachment laws state the grounds on which a president or other public official may be impeached with the intention of eventual removal from office. Most draw form the oft-cited grounds under the US Constitution of “Treason. Bribery, high crimes and misdemeanour’s” to essentially cover mainly corruption and ineptitude.Viktor Yanukovych of Ukraine was impeached for high treason. The treason was based on the fact that he was deemed to be pro-Russia which was then in a state of war with Ukraine. Although the impeachment process was challenged as having been irregular and therefore void in law, President Yanukovych had to flee following public protests against his administration in 2014. The same was the case for Philippines President Joseph Estrada who was impeached on charges of corruption and had to relinquish office before the trial in the Senate because of citizens protests. Along these same lines are the removal of Albohassan Banisadr who was removed from the presidency of Iran in 1981 by the Ayatollah following impeachment on accusations that he was guilty of conduct that was against the principles of the Iranian revolution of 1979.The claim of treason was also raised in the Impeachment claims against President Vaclav Klaus of Czech Republic in 2013. However, the charges were rejected by the constitutional court as moot because President Klaus’ term had expired by the time.Some grounds of impeachment can be funny if not unbelievable: President Sukarno of Indonesia was impeached and removed from the presidency on the ground that he had instigated a coup in 1965 against himself, two years prior to his impeachment!There are presidents who have been impeached for serious offences such as murder in the case of Alberto Fujimori of Peru. In his case, President Fujimori tried to resign but the resignation was rejected by the Congress which went ahead to remove him from office.It is often said that impeachment is not strictly a legal issue which relies on actual crimes or breaches of law. Presidents can be impeached and removed from office for what can essentially be said to be inter-branch conflicts within Government. Indonesian President Abdurrahman Wahid was removed in the year 2001 for threatening to dissolve parliament.But President’s Richard Nixon of the Unites States, Robert Mugabe of the Zimbabwe and Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan resigned and left office before the formal impeachment could be instituted against them. In other words, the device of impeachment may be a sign for an unpopular president to leave office to avoid the embarrassment of trial.It is often stated that impeachment should not be considered lightly and must be used as an instrument of last resort and even then, for the most egregious conduct on the part of the President. This explains why the process is rarely invoked. The best example being the United States, which first provided for impeachment in a written constitution and has only invoked it thrice in over two centuries. While one impeachment attempt can be serious and unsettling for the president whose removal is sought, former president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo of the Phillipines faced four impeachment attempts between the years 2005 and 2008. She leads Boris Yeltsin of Russia who also faced three impeachment attempts during his presidency.Generally, it would appear that impeachment is a political instrument for checking a president but with political overtones and implications. The grounds tend to be similar but the main ones appears to be corruption and maladministration. But sometimes, it can extend to mere policy differences. Presidents may be impeached for just about anything by the impeachment body, often a legislative assembly in the case of a bi-cameral legislature.In Kenya, however, the grounds for impeachment in the case of the president are a serious crime under national or international law, gross misconduct or violation of any law. The gross misconduct rule appears to capture just about any ill that the impeachment body may think of as constituting a ground for impeachment. A motion for impeachment of a president has not yet been instituted in the 10 years since the current constitution was promulgated.But it would likely be an interesting one as and when it is instituted. If that ever happens.
The writer is Head of Legal, Nation Media Group PLC