Parliament was on Wednesday forced to defer the gender bill after MPs appeared to defy President Uhuru Kenyatta and Opposition chiefs Raila Odinga and Kalonzo Musyoka by staying away from the House.
To pass the bill, Parliament required a total of 233 MPs to vote in its support, but at the time Majority leader Aden Duale rose to seek its deferment, only 212 MPs were present, 21 short of the required numbers.
The absenteeism was despite the fact that both Mr Odinga and Mr Musyoka were in the Speaker’s gallery to demonstrate their support for the proposed law, which aims to have more women in the country’s elective positions, in line with the provisions of the Constitution.
National Assembly Speaker Justin Muturi had alerted the members of the duo’s presence, introducing Mr Odinga as African Union’s High Representative for Infrastructure Development in Africa and Mr Musyoka as a special envoy to South Sudan. Mr Odinga had earlier held a meeting with Mr Muturi to discuss the bill.
But, despite the duo’s presence in the gallery and president Kenyatta’s declared support for the bill, majority of the male MPs remained opposed to the bill, accusing their female counterparts of trying to intimidate them into supporting it.
By extension, their hardline positions presented to Parliament a remarkable show of defiance and shifting party loyalties, right under the noses of their party heads.
It also emerged that majority of the MPs were reluctant to pass the bill before President Kenyatta assents to the Parliamentary Service Bill 2018, which seeks to enhance their perks, including house allowance, car loans, enhanced insurance cover, and a special kitty in each of the 290 constituencies for monitoring and evaluation of national government projects.
President Kenyatta has publicly criticised the MPs’ push to enhance their perks at the expense of the taxpayer, but the parliamentarians have maintained that they will pass the bill, the criticism notwithstanding. The feeling among some of the MPs is that the President first assents to the Parliamentary Service Bill 2018 before they pass the Gender one.
Mr Muturi accepted the request by Mr Duale to have the bill put on hold until February next year as the House is set to proceed on the long Christmas recess on Thursday next week.
“The House Business Committee will meet on Tuesday next week to consider this serious matter and decide when the bill will appear on the order paper for consideration. It is so ordered,” Mr Muturi said.
The Gender bill is intended to align the membership of the National Assembly with the Constitution, which requires that not more than two thirds of seats in the appointive and elective bodies should be of the same gender. It also seeks to create special nomination slots for women in the National Assembly and Senate to bridge the gender gap.
Mr Duale’s deferment request was made in line with standing order 141 as the numbers in the House were not enough for a vote to be taken. However, the deferment will not lapse the bill.
A loss would have meant that the bill be introduced afresh, the earliest in June 2019, because it takes six months to reintroduce a bill that has been negated.
It would have taken another 90 days for it to mature before debate commences. That means the bill would only have been ripe for debate in September 2019.
Immediately Mr Duale made his request, a good number of female MPs — members of the Kenya Women Parliamentary Association (KEWOPA) — rose in support of the deferment.
Mr Duale said his decision was based on consultations with the House leadership, and that if a vote is taken when a lot of members are not in the House, it risks being lost. “I don’t want history to judge me harshly. We will have an opportunity to have it voted on next year. We will lobby more. This is not an ordinary bill,” he said.
Mr Odinga’s allies were quick to defend the Opposition chief from claims that he, President Kenyatta and Mr Musyoka had failed to marshal the requisite numbers to pass the bill.
Minority Whip Junet Mohamed (Suna East) told the Nation that his party leader, Mr Odinga, had done his groundwork well to ensure all his troops supported the bill.
“We had the numbers because Mr Odinga had marshalled his troops, who were ready for the bill. All our MPs were in the house ready to pass it, save for about ten. All we wanted was a ten-minute adjournment to allow the ten to stream in. I’m surprised they decided to defer it instead,” he said.
Mr Musyoka also told the Nation that his Wiper party was in full support of the bill.
“Had other party leaders, especially those from the Jubilee side, graced the House to rally their troops, the requisite numbers would have been realised,” Mr Musyoka said.
Minority leader John Mbadi defended the deferment, saying it was intended to save it from certain defeat as the mood in the House was not conducive for voting. “It makes sense to defer it. If we had 233 MPs in the House. We would have gone ahead with the vote,” he said.
There were also accusations that KEWOPA leadership had not lobbied enough to secure the required numbers to pass the bill.
“KEWOPA has been mute, absent and clueless as far as this bill is concerned,” a female MP, who requested anonymity, said yesterday before the House met for the afternoon session.
“Their purported lobbying outside parliament could be a scheme to show their financiers that they were doing something when in real sense they did nothing,” a male MP said.
Kirinyaga Woman Representative Purity Ngirici is KEWOPA chairperson.