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Blow to women as Kenyan MPs opt to indefinitely postpone two-thirds gender rule

By Alphonce Shiundu | May 1st 2015

The prospect of more women joining politics on the back of the current constitutional requirement was shattered Thursday with the publication of a new bill that postpones indefinitely the requirement of the two-thirds gender rule.

The move appears to be the final plot in the scheming of lawmakers to dodge the judicial deadline to ensure the number of women in the country's two houses of Parliament is at least one-third.

The MPs quickly bulldozed the bill into the First Reading just a day after it was published, because they were headed for a month-long break. They said they wanted to amend Article 81(b) to ensure that laws for the inclusion of women in political seats was done "progressively".

"We want to make sure that this is progressively achieved over time," said the Chairman of the Justice and Legal Affairs Committee, Samuel Chepkonga. The lawmaker was backed by Majority Leader Aden Duale.

"The consequence is that this House and the Senate will be unconstitutional, because the number of women will be less than one-third. That means any Kenyan can go to court to seek the dissolution of this House," said Chepkonga, who signed the bill.

Quickest way

The MPs' decision for progressive implementation is meant to deal with the possible ballooning of the wage bill, if MPs go for the top up of women, a move experts argued was likely to push the number of MPs to 435.

An amendment of the Constitution is the quickest way to go around the bid for a referendum, because any attempt to increase the number of MPs will require a referendum, something the MPs are keen to avoid.

The House read the bill for the first time and it will now spend 90 days in the public space before it is debated and approved. It will then go to the Senate and go through the same process again, and after it is passed, shall it be forwarded to the President for approval.

The deadline expires on August 27 and by then, the MPs expect that the Constitution will have been amended.

The move is a loss for the women in the country, who had hoped for the law to speed up affirmative action, especially on elective political positions.

The clause to be amended is 81(b), and MPs insist that laws will be made to allow for the "progressive" inclusion of women in nation-building.

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