The reality check of early dissolution of Parliament has hit MPs with the clock fast ticking towards the judicial deadline for the approval of a law to meet the two-thirds gender principle.
With 20 days left to the expiry of the 60-day ultimatum, the Speaker of the National Assembly Justin Muturi and the Majority Leader Aden Duale have come up with a new two-step plan that will make it possible for MPs to amend the Constitution before they go on the final break and hit the campaign trail.
The two, who drive House agenda, have decided to resurrect a Bill which flopped twice in the House, and see if they will be third-time lucky.
The Bill, called the ‘Duale II Bill’ was originally published in August 2015. It sought to have women nominated to Parliament to top-up the gender gap and ensure that at least one-third of the MPs in the next Parliament are women.
It is a Constitutional Amendment, and usually, after it flops, it would require a fresh Bill and a fresh process in both Houses of Parliament and a minimum of 180 days – 90 days in each House between introduction (First Reading) and debate (Second reading) — as mandated by the Constitution.
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But the Speaker said he had come up with a legal shortcut to ensure that the Bill is steamrollered through the House and passed before the judicial deadline lapses.
“We have devised a method that the House can resolve to do away with the 90 days, because in any event, it being a Constitutional Amendment Bill, it is not open to any amendments. So we will just say that it has had sufficient public participation and input, all the relevant stakeholders have given their input, and that is the result (of broad consensus),” the Speaker told Sunday Standard from Kentucky, US, where he is on an official trip.
The idea is to exempt the Bill from the requirement of the Standing Orders for a fresh introduction of a Bill that lapsed.
The first step
Before he left for the US, the Speaker met with the chair of the National Gender and Equality Commission, Winfred Lichuma, and they agreed that the proposed shortcut is the most viable way to comply with the court’s decision.
Dr Lichuma has been the focal point in pushing for the enactment of laws to meet the two-thirds gender principle to ensure that “not more than two-thirds of the members of elective or appointive bodies shall be of the same gender” as prescribed in Articles 27(8) and 81(b) of the Constitution.
However, it is the likelihood of a bloated, unpredictable Parliament, and the prospect of “free seats for women”, that made many MPs deny the law the necessary two-thirds majority — 233 MPs — required to ensure that the Bill was passed in the previous two attempts.
For Muturi, the first step will be for him to make the ruling and seek the concurrence of the House to re-admit the Bill. After that, it will be up to Duale and the Majority Whip Katoo ole Metito to marshal the requisite numbers.
“The first step is to get general resolution by the House on a motion, and that is not problematic.
“But the passage of the Bill, which is a Constitutional Amendment, will still require two-thirds, and that now is not my business, because I don’t whip, neither do I lead the troops. My job was to try to get some route through which this can be done,” Muturi said.
But then the headache of a quorum, with the elections just three months away, is one that the Jubilee leadership will need to find a way to go around. Then, raising the numbers will also need the Opposition troops because of the two-thirds threshold.
Tedious consensus-building and horse-trading will have to happen, or Duale will have to appeal to MPs’ self-interest and the threat dissolution poses to their Sh10 million severance package.
It is not just the National Assembly that will be involved. The Senate too will have to use the same route, and because the Senators are on recess until June 13, they will have to come back this month for a special sitting to pass the Duale Bill.
If the MPs pass this law, they will have the luxury of holding onto their seats until August 8, when their term expires. If they don’t, the High Court will tell the Chief Justice David Maraga to ask the President to send them home.
MPs have twice failed to pass the Bill and had given up, until the High Court gave the 60-day ultimatum.
The lawmakers’ first instinct when the ultimatum came was to fight and even vow to ignore the judicial deadline, believing that when the order for dissolution came, a President keen on re-election would be slow to act, because he needs his troops campaign for him.
They had a cocktail of excuses: They had no time to amend the Constitution as doing so requires a minimum of 180 days; they will be busy on re-election campaigns and getting a quorum in the House would be a problem; they had tried before and failed, and they are not insane to do the same thing and expect different results.
But all that changed when President Uhuru Kenyatta, who in mid-April during the burial of his sister, rekindled the matter and told MPs that they had “a responsibility to work together and ensure that we pass the two-thirds a gender rule, so that women can take their rightful place in society as equal partners.”
Then the President’s spokesperson Manoah Esipisu let the cat out of the bag when he revealed that he (Kenyatta) had summoned Duale, and told him that he had to ensure that law was passed, before MPs go on the final recess on June 16.
“The President believes that the 11th Parliament has a historic opportunity to stamp its authority on the matter, and in terms of legacy be remembered as the Parliament that put issues related to women’s leadership at the very top of its agenda and thinking.
“The President is optimistic that MPs will come together in a bi-partisan way to get the job done,” Manoah said.
A few days later, Duale said, he will obey. And now Muturi, has found a way.