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Surprise vote as MPs burn midnight oil to conclude BBI

President Uhuru Kenyatta, former Prime Minister Raila Odinga (Top) and Deputy President William Ruto. [Standard]

The Constitution of Kenya (Amendment) Bill, 2020 was yesterday headed for a big win at the National Assembly as MPs burned the midnight oil to conclude both the second and third readings.

President Uhuru Kenyatta and ODM leader Raila Odinga had earlier used both carrot and stick to whip the MPs to support the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) Bill, including the ouster of Rarieda MP Otiende Amollo from the powerful Justice and Legal Affairs Committee as vice-chair.

Top government officials also reached out to the lawmakers as Uhuru and Raila released a joint statement asking them to put aside their political differences as it was not the moment of political adversity or personal aggrandisement.

“We are making a joint appeal to members of the National Assembly and the Senate to join the 3,188,001 Kenyans who supported the Bill, and the 44 county assemblies that approved it in upholding what represents the hopes and aspirations of all those who participated in the various public forums seeking long-term solutions to this country’s problems,” said the two leaders. 

When the division bell rang, a total of 247 members were physically present, while 55 were present virtually for the vote.

By press time, about half of the MPs present had cast their ballots, with a lot of surprises from unexpected quarters.

For instance, a majority of MPs from the pastoralist communities who had initially opposed the Bill voted in support.

Deputy Speaker Moses Cheboi abstained as Bahati MP Kimani Ngunjiri, a fierce critic of the BBI process and key ally of Deputy President William Ruto, surprised colleagues when he backed the Bill.

A number of Mt Kenya MPs also aligned to Ruto, who had opposed the Bill, voted in support.

As the voting got underway at the National Assembly, Senate Speaker Ken Lusaka adjourned the debate until next Tuesday when the House resumes its normal sitting.

Senate Speaker Ken Lusaka at the Senate chambers in Nairobi, June 2, 2020. [Elvis Ogina, Standard]

Early in the day, the Speaker was under immense pressure from senators who wanted him to rule on their push to make changes to the Bill.

If the National Assembly passes the Bill, it will not wait for the Senate’s vote, even though the two Speakers had agreed that the vote be taken concurrently.

As per Article 257 of the Constitution, whichever way the vote goes in Parliament, it will be inconsequential to the referendum process.

The Constitution states that once approved or rejected by the two Houses, the Bill will proceed for a referendum.

“If Parliament passes the Bill, it shall be submitted to the president for assent in accordance with Articles 256(4) and (5),” reads Section 9 of the Article.

“If either House of Parliament fails to pass the Bill, or the Bill relates to a matter specified in 255(1), the proposed amendment shall be submitted to the people in a referendum,” states section 10.

But the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) will not proceed to organise a referendum due to a court injunction.

In February, Justices Joel Ngugi, George Odunga, Jairus Ngaah, Janet Mulwa and Chacha Mwita stopped IEBC from conducting a referendum until cases challenging the BBI process were heard.

Prior to the voting in the National Assembly yesterday, MPs allied to Uhuru and Raila faced off with their colleagues allied to Ruto in a heated debate in both Houses.

Ruto allies put up a strong opposition to the Bill, describing it as divisive and with little solutions to problems bedeviling Kenyans.

The backers of the BBI, however, rallied the Houses to back the Bill, citing more resource allocation to counties, expansion of the Executive to end winner-takes-it-all system as well as curing the two-thirds gender rule.

MPs William Cheptumo (Baringo North), Aden Duale (Garissa Township), Caleb Kositany (Soy), Kimani Ichung’wah (Kikuyu) and Johana Ng’eno (Emurua Dikirr) led the onslaught against the document.

Garissa Town Aden Duale at Jubilee Party Headquarters in Nairobi, March 24, 2021. [Boniface Okendo, Standard]

Cheptumo said it was deceitful to tell voters that the proposed constitutional changes will end electoral violence.

The former Justice and Legal Affairs assistant minister said impunity and disobedience of the rule of law by those in power were the biggest challenges.

“From the onset, I want to say I oppose this Bill. The challenge we have as a country is not the Constitution but us leaders. The challenge we have is that we don’t believe in the rule of law; we choose the narrow path of violence any time we lose elections,” said Cheptumo.

Duale said the proposed changes have not suggested any electoral reforms to prevent the country from plunging into possible electoral violence.

“I will not speak for any political party but on behalf of the people of Garissa. I want somebody to tell me if this Bill will end electoral violence, I want someone to tell me if this Bill contains electoral reforms,” he said.

Ichung’wah described the Bill as a poisoned chalice anchored on political treachery and deception.

“We are deceiving ourselves and the country. The base of our NG-CDF is not changing with Sh36 billion divided by 290 constituencies. I can only ask the people of Kenya to stop them at the ballot because here we will be bribed; we will be bought,” he said.

Pro-BBI lawmakers, however, put up a spirited fight for the passage of the Bill, citing several benefits from the proposed changes.

Samburu Woman Representative Maison Leshomo, also a member of the BBI task force, said the proposals were from the people. She dismissed claims that the Handshake partners were pushing their political interests down the throats of people.

“The views in the BBI are from the people, they did not come from certain people but from all Kenyans. We went all round the country collecting views based on the nine-point agenda by President Kenyatta and ODM leader Raila,” said Leshomo.

National Assembly Deputy Majority Whip Maoka Maore said those opposed to the BBI were doing so over claims they were sidelined in the process, but not on the basis of content.

In the Senate, it emerged that some proposals by the BBI task force may have been ignored in drafting the Bill.

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