Kenya MPs delete party-hopping clause, forcing suspension of House business

Kisumu West MP Olago Aluoch. The legislator moved an amendment to the report, going against the wishes of the House leadership that the report could not be amended and had to be passed in its current form. (PHOTO: COLLINS ODUOR/ STANDARD)

MPs yesterday amended a report of the select committee on electoral reform, throwing out a provision that curbs party-hopping.

In a session dominated by passionate exchanges, Kisumu Town West MP Olago Aluoch moved an amendment to the report, going against the wishes of the House leadership that the report could not be amended and had to be passed in its current form.

Lawmakers, unhappy that the report locks them in political parties, voted for changes to the report, arguing that the drafters of the report had gone against their mandate and the provision was an affront to freedom of association.

"The Constitution is clear that every person has a right of freedom of association, which is linked to the right of forming, joining or participating in the activities of any party. This House should ensure the report should not become law, until it complies with the Constitution," Mr Aluoch said.

His Budalang'i counterpart Ababu Namwamba said: "In an environment where political parties have not matured to a level where they can assure you 100 per cent of remaining faithful to the tenets of democracy, to live by their own internal rules, we cannot subject ourselves to the tyranny of political parties."

The offending clause read: "After the names of candidates are forwarded to the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission, a candidate who changes their party shall not be eligible to contest in an election as a candidate of the new party or as an independent candidate."

The MPs deleted the clause after an acrimonious session.

House Majority Leader Aden Duale (Garissa Town MP), his Minority counterpart, Francis Nyenze (Kitui West MP) and Deputy Minority Leader Jakoyo Midiwo (Gem MP) were forced to plead with the Speaker to adjourn debate on the motion for further consultations, after it became clear that the horse had bolted and MPs had their way in deleting the offending provision.

"You must rule on this matter. If the speaker did not allow an amendment to the mother motion, how then do you amend its product? This House is not a marketplace," Mr Duale said.

"There is need for consultations. You have to consult the other speaker because he said there will be no amendment. We need to consult each other and relook this thing. The most unfortunate thing is for us to throw out this report. The consequence of not passing the report will be street demos and loss of life," Mr Nyenze added.

Mr Midiwo said it was still possible to save the report despite the amendment by MPs. "The worry is that people may be thinking the mood of this country is not read by our leaders. This is a first for us. We need to think outside of the box," he explained.

"We never sent the committee to work outside its mandate. That is the window that we must make use of, so that we arrive at what Olago has done and still save the report. Let us go and look at the report take out the extraneous issues before we come back here. Nothing has been done that we cannot correct," Midiwo added.

But it was another case of too little too late as MPs had already done away with the clause that is however premised on the passage of the Bills on electoral laws by the House. Deputy Speaker Joyce Laboso was forced to adjourn debate for further consultations, even after the MPs had agreed to delete the clause.

"We all know the circumstances under which the report was made. There is a history to what has happened this afternoon. In all fairness, Let us consult each other more so that we can look at the issues that have been raised," Ms Laboso advised.

The matter was, however, complicated when Senate Speaker Ekwee Ethuro ruled that the report could not be amended. National Assembly Speaker Justin Muturi, during the passage of the motion, had also disallowed any amendments.

Suba Mp John Mbadi said the House could not vote in vain.

"The Leader of Majority delayed in raising the issue, unless we are saying that we voted in vain. What we should now say is whether we can allow further amendments. The House has already made a decision. Going back on it would be violating its own procedures," he said.

His Ainabkoi counterpart Samuel Chepkonga tried to plead with MPs, saying they still had the option of passing the report and making changes to the election law bills but in vain.

Marakwet East MP David Kangogo said it is not the clause on party hopping alone that was irregular.