Senate yesterday failed to live up to its billing after the members retreated to their political coalitions when they met to discuss the contentious Election Amendment Laws.
The House was so divided that when the chairman of the joint Legal Affairs and Human Rights Committee and ICT, Amos Wako rose to address members, he revealed that CORD and Jubilee senators had decided to vote along party lines. Consequently, the report he presented had two sides, one passed by majority of Jubilee members and an annexures by CORD members who had opposed the amendments.
Later, when the House voted for the Elections Act amendment Bill, 24 senators from the Jubilee side voted for it while 19 CORD senators opposed it. The bill sailed to the third reading where the committee of the whole House were now free to make any amendments before it could be subjected to yet another vote.
The Opposition maintained that the Bill is bad and urged their colleagues from the Jubilee side to tread with caution. The latter backed the Bill.
From the outset, a stand-off ensued when the minority side led by Moses Wetang’ula (Bungoma) insisted the report by the Legal Affairs and ICT joint committee be tabled for debate.
By then members had not agreed on the report, leading to a minority report being produced, which was mainly a procedural motion and the Second Reading of the Bill.
The speaker ruled that Mr Wetang’ula was out of order and directed House Majority Leader Kithure Kindiki (Tharaka Nithi) to move the Bill, which was seconded by his deputy Kipchumba Murkomen (ELgeyo Marakwet).
There were interjections and procedural motions to extend and reduce the time stipulated in the special sitting.
Nevertheless, Mr Ethuro stood his ground and directed the debate to proceed as he ordered the team to table the report in the afternoon.
Despite the Bill seeking to amend a number of election laws, the focus was mainly on section 44, which covers the identification, registration and transmission of results electronically, as demonstrated by Kakamega Senator Boni Khalwale when he interjected Prof Kindiki’s submission on other sections.
Senators Wetang’ula, Anyang’ Nyong’o (Kisumu), Elizabeth Ongoro (nominated), Janet Ong’era (nominated), Hassan Omar (Mombasa), Amos Wako (Busia), Mutula Kilonzo Jnr (Makueni) and James Orengo (Siaya) dismissed the Bill as mischievous, saying it was part of a wider scheme to rig the August elections.
“We should not make laws in anticipation. These are the worst laws that cannot stand the test of time. We are setting this country on a collision path,” Ms Ong’era said.
Prof Nyong’o warned: “This is poor workmanship. It is (worse compared to) the original law. The law passed by the Joint Parliament Select Commission fulfils the Kriegler’s recommendation. We need consensus on what we do instead of whipping emotions.”
The lawmaker wondered why senators were amending clauses that did not even exist.
“Why should we amend clauses that do not exist yet my colleagues from the majority side are supporting the Bill? Let’s stand tall and refused to be influenced into doing unconstitutional things. The National Assembly has always rejected senate Bills, why should we back their own?” he asked.
Wetang’ula strongly rejected the Bill, saying Senate should not retain it in its current form.
“I feel embarrassed that we want to pass a provision in the law vesting the authority of boundaries review on the National Assembly. This is purely partisan, six CORD senators rejected the clause and 10 Jubilee voted to support it,” said Wetang’ula.
He continued: “Let’s legislate on a law that if you put it in the hands of your worst enemy (and) it doesn’t hurt you, then it’s a good law. You may win today (but) tomorrow is waiting. (You may) win the battle but not the war. The numbers are not in this House, the numbers are waiting outside.”
He went on: “History of this country is in your hands. The Senate will either set the tranquil or set casket towards palatable consequences... If we convolute the electoral process by using numbers, we (will be) courting disaster. There must be a difference between boys and girls. It doesn’t matter (who wins), we want credible polls.”
The most disgusted person during the debate seemed to be Orengo, who questioned the motive of the Bill. The Constitution, he said, is very clear on who exercises the legislative powers on behalf of the people.
“We are abrogating the powers of the Senate to other arms. We are passing laws without thinking,” he said.
He continued: “This Bill if we pass it the way it is presented without change is bure kabisa (nonsense). Let’s not be a conveyor belt, some laws (are) returned because he (President) is not happy with what Parliament has done. Amendments to laws that don’t exist, what are we doing?”
“Parliament, this is unconstitutional, let it not pass. I urge you to reject this Bill. I urged Senator Beth Mugo to educate her people. This Government is going to punish you more than it will punish me. You will be running to our office, it will chew you,” he warned. Senator Gideon Moi (Baringo) also weighed on the matter saying it seemed the Bill was ditching the digital system in favour of analogue.
“Kenya is a hub of technology. Silicon Valley. What is important is the complimentary mechanisms. Who is going to set the mechanism, Is it IEBC? Do you trust then?, No! These are the issues. Watch my vote Mr Speaker Sir,” he said.
Kindiki, Mr Murkomen, Stephen Sang (Nandi), Kembi Gitura (Murang’a), Kiraitu Murungi (Meru) backed the Bill. “The law gives an MP absolute freedom to vote for the Bill. No one should interfere with a member’s freedom to vote. I am sorry but I have to support the Bill,” said Kiraitu.
Sang said: “If indeed the electronic mechanism was a Jubilee baby, let’s provide a manual of what they (CORD) believed in.” He argued that at no point had Jubilee said they did not need a back-up.
“If we might disagree, let’s agree on the issues that brought us together. In every process, the element of back up is important. It will be tragic, if an eligible voter is blocked from voting because a gadget didn’t recognise them,” he said.