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CORD scores against election law changes in chaotic House session

By Wilfred Ayaga | December 21st 2016
CORD Members of Parliament led by John Mbadi address the media after the Speaker of the National Assembly adjourned as special meeting on 20/12/16. PHOTO: MOSES OMUSULA

NAIROBI: The Opposition Tuesday managed to temporarily block controversial amendments to the country’s new election laws.

In a chaotic session characterised by name-calling and high drama in the National Assembly, the Coalition for Reforms and Democracy (CORD) succeeded in deferring the changes.

There was a heated exchange as to whether the debate on Elections Act could go on past the stipulated time (6.30pm) and at one point, live TV transmission was switched off.

With about 20 minutes to the expiry of the added time, Speaker Justin Muturi ruled that the House was so unruly to a point that the contentious could not be debated. He adjourned the House until January 24, 2017.

The adjournment was met with jubilation from the victorious CORD side, which began chanting a victory chorus: "A people united can never be defeated!" as they dedicated their triumph to the people of Kenya.

Immediately the decision by the Speaker was announced, fireworks lit up the city, which had been tense the whole day.

ODM Chairman John Mbadi said, "The Speaker has done the right thing but it was too late. We thank Kenyans  for standing with us."

He added that Kenyans would take to the streets if Jubilee insisted on subverting the will of the people by pushing through unpopular amendments that go against the election laws negotiated by the joint parliamentary committee.

Suna East MP Junet Mohamed was equally enthusiastic as he celebrated with his colleagues shouting, "We have won and Baba too must win in the General Election!"

The MPs also put the Justice and Legal Affairs Committee chairman, Samuel Chepkonga (Ainabkoi, Jubilee), on the defensive on whether the amendments had been approved by his committee as required by the assembly's Standing Orders.

Although Mr Chepkonga promised to produce a committee report to show that the amendments had been approved by the committee, this did not happen. 

For the entire session, tension remained high in the House in anticipation of a showdown between the Opposition and the ruling Jubilee coalition.

The Opposition is opposed to an amendment that gives the electoral body the powers to revert to a manual system if technology deployed during the election fails.

It is also opposed to another change seeking to increase the number of voters per polling station from 500 to 700.

Earlier, Opposition legislators barricaded corridors leading to the main chamber, blocking Speaker Justin Muturi from accessing the chambers.

House leaders were forced into an informal sitting to seek a way out of the impasse that brought back memories of the chaos that characterised the passage of the controversial security laws in 2014.

When the Speaker returned, he ran into chaotic scenes and had to force his way into the chamber with the help of orderlies.

Mbita MP Millie Odhiambo threw herself between the Speaker and the mace, the House's symbol of authority, but was pushed back by the security team, who then created a way for the Speaker.

During the afternoon session, the House debated the Budget Policy statement, with CORD lawmakers keen to see the House adjourn at 6.30pm.

All the while, police blocked all roads to Parliament Buildings, keeping the curious public away from Parliament Road.

Leader of Majority Aden Duale (Garissa Town, Jubilee) had sought to recommit the Election Laws Amendment Bill to the House, but CORD claimed the move went against the spirit of a negotiated settlement by the Joint Committee on Electoral Reforms.

"I have received a request indicating the desire to introduce amendments to the Bill," explained Mr Duale.

But Deputy Leader of Minority Jakoyo Midiwo (Gem) and the CORD brigade in the House responded by arguing that the changes had not been subjected to public participation and that Jubilee was plotting to water down the negotiated laws that provide a road-map to the next General Election.

"We are here unnecessarily. Duale must not and should not think we are fools. You cannot bring something as substantial as a new law before public participation. Nothing has been published. Mr Speaker, do not allow anybody to misuse this House to make wrong laws," said Midiwo.

He added: "That Bill came here by a bipartisan committee. If it must be changed, go back and renegotiate. I plead that good sense prevails. What Kenyans want is a free and credible election. We in the House Business Committee have not discussed this matter. A matter this important cannot come to this House before being deliberated by the House Business Committee. Let us not leave this town for Christmas when the public is divided because their leaders are doing the wrong thing. This is not something Duale can force on us."

TJ Kajwang (Ruaraka, ODM) said the House procedures had been ignored in the way the amendments were introduced and called for a renegotiation of the document.

"I beg that legislation is done with decorum and procedure. There must be a report by the committee that is brought to the House for debate. The point we are making is that legislative mandate will only be exercised if we follow the legislative procedures of this House. I beg that this matter be taken to the relevant committee. There will be political re-engineering in the way these matters will proceed," he said.

"I am a member of the Justice Committee and a member of this House. I'm also a citizen of this country. Let us not use the powers given to us by the Constitution and the people of this country to make laws that will drive this country into anarchy. Let us make laws that will make this country safe for everyone," argued Johanna Ng'eno (Emurua Dikirr).

In his defence, however, Mr Chepkonga said the proposals had come from the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission and he was merely a conveyor belt.

He told the House he had a report to confirm that the changes had been discussed by the committee, and wondered why some of the members were denying this.

"Chepkonga does not work with IEBC. I am merely a Member of Parliament for Ainabkoi. We sat in the committee, Ezra Chiloba (IEBC chief executive) came and presented the commission's report. The report is in the name of IEBC, not Samuel Chepkonga and Company Advocates. It is my responsibility to ensure all things tabled in the committee are brought before this House," said Chepkonga.

He added: "IEBC does not have comprehensive regulations on the use of technology in elections... They recommended that we use manual transmission with regard to results. I did not know that someone was going to say that this was not discussed in the committee."

Mr Ng'eno also opposed the changes to the election laws, arguing that it would set the country up for chaos.

"These laws have to be subjected to proper scrutiny by the committee. You cannot just stand here and tell us that you are amending this law. The amendments were rejected in totality. Today, somebody wakes up and tells us that he wants to present amendments and you think we will just clap. Who are we to pass a law that will put this country into jeopardy? asked the MP.

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