Ruto backs bid to scrap degree rule for MCAs and MPs

Deputy President William Ruto at the Sun N Sand Hotel in Kilifi County, May 22, 2021. [Omondi Onyango, Standard]

Deputy President William Ruto has backed a fresh bid by lawmakers to scrap degree requirement for aspirants in next year’s General Election.

The new Bill by Elgeyo Marakwet Senator Kipchumba Murkomen seeks to amend Section 22 of the Elections Act, 2011 that made a university degree mandatory for those seeking to run for MP and MCA positions.

Murkomen’s Bill lists the ability to read and write as the only requirement.

The Elections (Amendment) Bill, 2021 in the Senate comes barely two days after two petitioners moved to the National Assembly seeking to have the House appeal the degree requirement.

Ruto said the legislation should not be seen as an attempt to deny Kenyan voters an opportunity to have the leaders they want.

“To put the requirements of MCAs, same as that of the members of the National Assembly, senators, governors and the president is unreasonable,” said Ruto while addressing MCAs from Baringo County at his official residence in Nairobi, yesterday.

Murkomen argues that making academic papers a requirement for elective positions would lock out many people with leadership attributes.

“The purpose of this Bill is to amend the Elections Act, No 24 of 2011, to enable a person who is able to read and write to be nominated as a candidate for elections as a Member of Parliament,” states the Bill.

“Section 22 of the Elections Act is amended in subsection (1) by deleting paragraph (b) and substituting therefore the following new paragraph – (b) is able to read and write in the English or Kiswahili language or, in the case of a person who is deaf or hard of hearing, is literate in the Kenya sign language,” it states.

Elgeyo Marakwet Senator Kipchumba Murkomen at Parliament Buildings, Nairobi. [Elvis Ogina, Standard]

The former Senate Majority Leader argues that making a university degree a requirement for political aspirants contravenes the constitution.

He says Article 38(3) of the Constitution provides that - every adult citizen has the right, without unreasonable restrictions – to be a registered voter, to vote by secret ballot in any election or referendum and be a candidate for public office within a political party of which the citizen is a member and elected, to hold office.

Section 22 of the Elections Act 2012, which is set to take effect in the next elections, makes it mandatory for aspirants to have a university degree to get clearance by the electoral commission to contest.

“This will allow persons who may not have a degree but have other attributes of a leader to vie for election. The provision contained in the Elections Act is not only restrictive but discriminates against persons who may not have a degree as it implies that only persons who have the capacity to serve in public office,” says Murkomen.

“The Bill, therefore, seeks to provide for inclusivity in the election process by enabling persons who can read and write to vie for election.”

The petition by Antony Manyara and John Wangai has since been committed before the National Assembly’s Justice and Legal Affairs Committee (JLAC) amid a major split among lawmakers.

The petitioners argue that the degree requirement was unconstitutional as it was discriminatory and inconsistent with provisions on the sovereign will of the people to elect their representatives.

They further argue that Covid-19 disrupted the academic calendar, stopping sitting and aspiring politicians from acquiring papers.

The petitioners argue that the university degree requirement will also make political leadership a preserve of the elite and will disenfranchise a number of good leaders who may not have been privileged to pursue higher education.

National Assembly Majority Leader Amos Kimunya at Parliament Buildings, June 10, 2021. [David Njaaga, Standard]

But National Assembly Majority Leader Amos Kimunya and Minority Leader John Mbadi led the House in dismissing the petition and told those seeking to contest for elective positions to go back to school for papers.

“What we would like to encourage them to go to school. Let them think of 2027 and let them give an opportunity to those who have prepared themselves to participate in 2022 elections in compliance with the existing law,” said Kimunya on Tuesday.

Currently, the Elections Act only makes it mandatory for the presidential aspirant and running mate as well as governors and their running mates to be degree holders.

Implementation of the law for MCA and MP aspirants to have the requirement was postponed in the 2017 polls.

The latest push has been triggered by the pronouncement by the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) that it will only process those with university degree to run in the 2022 contest.