MPs yesterday defied President Uhuru Kenyatta and Opposition leader Raila Odinga and failed to turn up in the National Assembly for a crucial vote on the Gender Bill.
Despite the leaders’ passionate appeals to their respective party members to back the Bill, 137 of the 349 MPs kept away from the House, dealing a technical hitch to the legislation that seeks to increase the number of women MPs in both the National Assembly and the Senate.
Denied the requisite numbers to necessitate a vote, the House quickly made a tactical retreat and stood down the Constitutional Amendment Bill before it was subjected to a count, saving it from imminent failure.
The Bill required the presence of, at a bare minimum, two-thirds of the 349 legislators – at least 233 MPs – for it to be subjected to the vote. For it to sail through to the committee stage, all these legislators were required to vote in its support.
But by the time the Bill was called out, and Majority Leader Aden Duale called to give a reply, which marks the end of the debate stage, there were only 212 MPs in the House, prompting him to call for the standing down of the business until February next year. MPs will break for the Christmas recess next week.
The proponents of the Bill, notably female MPs, had enhanced their lobbying, including getting their male counterparts to stick a white emblem on their jackets in a show of solidarity.
But as widely expected, marshalling the numbers to show up in the House proved a difficult task. While those present were obviously more than those who attend sessions on any ordinary day, raising the numbers required for a constitutional amendment Bill was too great to achieve, prompting the quick intervention.
The presence of Mr Raila and his co-principal, Kalonzo Musyoka, in the gallery of the chambers, coupled with strong lobbying by both Uhuru and his deputy, William Ruto, was not enough to convince MPs, some whom have openly expressed their reservations about the Bill.
The House Business Committee, which schedules business for the House and which is chaired by Speaker Justin Muturi, had anticipated that the House might not raise the numbers. The committee had thus agreed that Duale postpone the vote if it emerged that the threshold would not be met, if only to save the Bill from being lost.
“Should we attempt to take the vote, and having counted the members present, I regret that we risk losing the Bill. It does not require rocket science to realise that we do not have the 233 members,” said Duale as he called for the deferring of the matter.
The Garissa Town MP warned the legislators of the consequences of losing the Bill after the vote, saying it would require a republishing, which can only happen in the next session, and with the strict requirements of a constitutional Bill, then it could only make it in the House in June next year, at the earliest.
Deferring the vote gives MPs an opportunity to take the ballot in February.
Uhuru, Raila, Kalonzo and even ANC leader Musalia Mudavadi had all lobbied MPs to back the Bill after two initial attempts flopped in the last Parliament.
The caucus of women legislators, under the umbrella of the Kenya Women Parliamentary Association, had also stepped up lobbying for the Bill that seeks to increase the number of women in the assembly by an extra 22 members to bridge the gender gap and ensure that at least one-third of the members of the male-dominated Parliament are women.
“We had agreed (in the House Business Committee) that we take stock of the numbers present and since we do not meet the threshold we would better defer it,” said Minority Leader John Mbadi.
Women MPs who spoke supported the move to shelve the Bill, saying this would give them more time to step up lobbying.
“We are optimistic that come February our male colleagues will return here happier after spending the Christmas break with their wives, daughters and mothers and they will support this Bill,” said Murang’a Women Representative Sabina Chege.
Other women MPs who supported the decision were Maison Leshoomo (Samburu), Denittah Ghati (Migori), Esther Passaris (Nairobi), Gladys Wanga (Homa Bay) and Kandara’s Alice Wahome. Earlier, Raila’s wife, Ida Odinga, had urged Parliament to pass the Gender Bill to “make a difference in our lives.”