Male MPs have hatched a new plot of amending the Constitution to block elective positions from being subjected to comply with the two-thirds gender principle.
Hours after the National Assembly failed to vote for the Gender Bill, some male lawmakers have proposed to amend Article 81 of the Constitution, which requires that “not more than two-thirds of members of elective public bodies shall be of the same gender”.
The proponents want only appointive positions subjected to the two-thirds-gender principle.
They argue that elective bodies have been abused to reward mistresses of senior politicians or slay queens rather than be based on merit.
The net effect of the proposed amendment would be that women might be locked out of nominations to the Senate, National Assembly and county assemblies to bridge the gender gap.
Yesterday, Turkana South MP James Lomenen, who is leading the onslaught to do away with the gender rule in the legislature, said the bill flopped because it was impractical.
“The bill was an attempt to disenfranchise Kenyans by imposing leaders on them through the back door. The Constitution envisages a situation where Kenyans must be accorded an opportunity to decide their representatives,” the vocal MP said.
Warning that the authority to pick representatives must lie with the electorate, the Jubilee lawmaker insisted that nominations have in the past been abused.
“Elective seats are competitive and you don’t just pick anyone. People choose the leaders they want through a thorough scrutiny process,” he said.
Ainabkoi MP William Chepkut said it was necessary to amend Section 81 so elective positions are exempted from the gender rule. Only appointive positions should be subjected to the gender principle.
“This is the way to go to avoid charades that dominate the nomination process. We need integrity in the whole process,” he told the Star.
Despite weeks of intense lobbying led by President Uhuru Kenyatta and ODM leader Raila Odinga to comply with the supreme law, MPs on Wednesday failed to raise the requisite quorum to vote on the amendment bill.
The bill, which was introduced in Parliament last week, provided for special seats to be created if elections fail to achieve the required numbers, with candidates from the under-represented gender nominated to fill them.
Currently, there are 76 women in the National Assembly — 23 elected MPs, 47 woman representatives and six nominated MPs. The Senate has 21 women —19 nominated and three elected members. The National Assembly has 349 members while the Senate has 67.
While male MPs have complained that women were seeking free seats, gender activists say women in politics around the world face a barrage of challenges to be elected, including physical, sexual violence and lack of money to fund their campaigns.
Women argue that because of these bottlenecks, they can’t compete with their male counterparts on a level playground and must, therefore, be protected with a fallback plan on their representation.
The House was on Wednesday forced to shelve the bill until February next year.
A total of 137 MPs failed to show up for the debate and vote, despite being urged to do so by the country’s and parties’ leadership.
Raila and Kalonzo showed up in Parliament to add a fillip to the momentum to vote for the bill, but their presence did little to add up the House numbers.
Raila observed that Parliament has continuously violated the rights of women by denying them more seats.
“The bill is meant to help the country realise the right to equality and freedom from discrimination for women as stipulated in the 2010 Constitution,” he said.
Nasa co-principals Musyoka and Musalia Mudavadi said the bill’s benefits outweigh the costs.
“If passed into law, the bill will streamline the activities of not only women but all Kenyans in national politics and policymaking,” Mudavadi said.
Parliament required 233 MPs to be present and vote in favour of the Bill but only 212 MPs — 21 short — had clocked in when Majority leader Aden Duale rose to seek leave of the House to defer the bill to a later date.
There were claims that the MPs want to use the bill to arm-twist the President to assent to another controversial bill that gives them wide-ranging powers to determine their own salaries and perks.
The Parliamentary Service Bill, 2018 passed the Second Reading stage last week and looks set to sail through.
In deferring the gender vote on Wednesday, Duale relied on Standing Order 141 after realising that there were less than 233 MPs in the House.
He told the House the postponement would facilitate further lobbying across the political divide.
“If we take the option of deferring it today, we will save it and remain with the voting in the Second Reading, committee of the whole House and the Third Reading. These three steps can be entered in February next year, having saved the Bill by way of deferment,” he said.
Duale said the House Business Committee, chaired by Speaker Justin Muturi, had met on Tuesday night and the better part of Wednesday morning and opted to shelve the vote on the Bill.
“The claim that this Bill will lapse if we don’t conclude it today does not hold any water. There are those of us who want to throw the baby out with the bathwater but the parliamentary procedures and process allow us as leaders to think out of the box,” the Garissa Town MP said.
“As Leader of Majority, I don’t want history to judge me harshly.It doesn’t require rocket science to establish that we are not 233 members.” Duale said Standing Order 141 ( 2 ) (b) stipulates that the Bill will lapse in December 2019.
Minority leader John Mbadi defended Duale saying, “If the motion is defeated by the mere fact that we cannot get the threshold, then it will take us more time. I urge that we let the Leader of Majority get his way and we withdraw the motion before us.”
He was supported by Dennitah Ghati (nominated), Kimani Ichung’wa (Kikuyu), Olago Aluoch (Kisumu West) and Esther Passaris (Nairobi woman rep).
“I urge the Majority leader to speak to the President to engage some budget to sensitise the public on gender,” Passaris said.
Muturi ruled that the House Business Committee will meet on Tuesday next week to decide when next the Bill will appear on the Order Paper.
If the vote could have been taken without two-thirds of MPs voting, it would have been automatically defeated.
It would only be re-introduced in the House after six months with a further nine months’ maturity period before the commencement of debate.
The Speaker had the leeway to shelve the vote to enable parties mobilise MPs, but the vote has to be taken within five sittings of the House.
“I have the liberty to use the Standing Orders and shelve voting today. I don’t think there would have been enough lobbying to get the numbers,” Muturi ruled.