Kenya: Kenyatta, Odinga appeal to MPs as gender bill goes to the vote

Members of Parliament will on Wednesday afternoon vote on the enactment of the Constitution of Kenya (Amendment) Bill 2018, which seeks to implement the two-thirds gender rule on representation in parliament.

Debate on the bill, which seeks to amend articles 97 and 98 of the Constitution to introduce special nomination slots for women MPs to bridge the gap of gender representation in parliament, ended last week on Wednesday.

The vote comes amid fears over the likelihood of the bill, which is sponsored by National Assembly majority leader Aden Duale, getting the requisite support of a superior majority to sail through.

Already, some MPs allied to the ruling Jubilee party have sworn to vote against its enactment, arguing that leaders of political parties will misuse the powers to nominate women in positions of leadership.

The President was on Tuesday expected to meet his party members for a whipping exercise to support the Bill, as concerns grow on the likelihood of the dissolution of parliament if it flops.The 11th parliament flopped two attempts to pass the Bill after both the National Assembly and Senate shot it down, with women parliamentarians resorting to protests to push for its implementation.

Some analysts have poured cold water on the latest attempts to enact the gender rule, saying that mobilization of MPs has been inadequate.

“There is lack of political will to pass this law and it will be a miracle if it sails through,” lawyer and former MP Gitobu Imanyara said.

Last year, Justice John Mativo of the High Court ruled that if the parliament fails to pass the Bill into law, any Kenyan can petition the Chief Justice to advise the President to dissolve parliament on the basis of lacking the required constitutional representation.

The President, his Deputy and other major political leaders have already made public their views on the Bill, urging lawmakers to support it, although a section of male leaders are opposed.

However, a section of the leaders such as Gatundu South’s Moses Kuria, Kimilili MP Didmus Barasa, Dr Eseli Simiyu (Tongaren) and nominated MP David Ole Sankok have openly said they will oppose it, despite pressure from their party bosses.

But Wednesday afternoon marks the apex of the events after which, should the MPs fail to pass the bill, the CJ will most likely advise President Kenyatta to dissolve the National Assembly and MPs would be forced to go back to the ballot.

It is on the back of these concerns that the House Business Committee (HBC) of the National Assembly on Tuesday evening met to decide the fate of the bill. A section of the House leadership was of the opinion that voting on the bill be delayed to give room for more lobbying by parliamentary parties.

The Nasa and Jubilee Parliamentary Group meetings were scheduled for Tuesday morning but were postponed because the party leaders – President Uhuru Kenyatta (Jubilee) and Mr Raila Odinga (Nasa) were busy at the ongoing Blue Economy Conference at the Kenyatta International Convention Centre (KICC).

This now means that the HBC, chaired by Speaker Justin Muturi, will have the final say on when the 349 members will vote on the bill before the House breaks for the Christmas recess on Thursday next week.

On Sunday, leader of majority Aden Duale, who is the mover of the bill, had anticipated that the bill will be delayed.

“If we see the numbers in the House are not looking good, I will seek the permission of the speaker to have it deferred. But we are trying all we can to ensure that we get the numbers,” Mr Duale said. But yesterday, Mr Duale was not available for comment.

About 42 new seats are required in the National Assembly on top of the current 75 women MPs – 22 elected, 47 county women representatives and 6 nominated, being a third of the 349 members.

The Senate has 18 nominated women Senators and three elected and requires about five slots for women to meet the requirements of article 81 (b) of the constitution, which provides that not more than two-thirds of appointive and elective public positions shall be filled by the same gender.

Normally, before voting on a bill of such magnitude takes place, members are whipped in their respective parliamentary group meetings.

For the bill to sail through, the support of the Jubilee party, the largest party in the House, is crucial because it requires two-thirds majority or at least 233 of the 349 MPs in the National Assembly to sail through as contemplated under article 256 of the Constitution.

Failure to reach this threshold will mean that the bill is negatived, therefore lost, cannot progress to the next level and can only be reintroduced in the House after six months.

The task of saving the bill now lies with Mr Duale, the mover, who under Standing Order 53 (3) can request Speaker Justin Muturi to delay putting the question for the second reading until such time when not less than 233 MPs will be available as required by the constitution.

Should 233 members vote in support of the bill, the House Business Committee (HBC), chaired by the Speaker, will thereafter schedule the bill for consideration in the Committee of the whole House and third reading, which will be undertaken at later sittings.

If the bill fails at the second reading, the Speaker has the discretion to provide one last opportunity for the vote to take place at a later sitting, which ought to take place within five sitting days from the day of the initial vote.

The Nasa leader has expressed his support for the gender bill together with Wiper party leader Kalonzo Musyoka and ANC leader Musalia Mudavadi, who recently said the bill should be part of referendum question if it fails in parliament.

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