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Constitutional crisis looms as gender bill hits quorum hitch

It’s the closest thing to playing Russian roulette by legislators for this country could be headed to a constitutional crisis after Parliament failed for a third time in as many attempts, to pass the gender bill.

It’s a booby trapped path they seem to have embarked on; one whose grave pitfalls lies in the fact that the Chief Justice can recommend to the President to dissolve Parliament for failing in its mandate to enact a bill whose operationalisation had constitutional timelines.

Women nomination

Independent sources told the People Daily that President Uhuru Kenyatta has been so determined to have the bill passed that at one time he had hinted at giving in to any push to dissolve Parliament should the MPs refuse to heed his call.

The gender bill, which seeks to amend the Constitution to provide for the special nomination seats for women to bridge the gender gap in Parliament, was to be put to vote yesterday but members did not meet the two-thirds (233) number required.

Speaker Justin Muturi had explained to MPs that not only did they need to hit the required number of 233, but for them to be in support.

Opposition leaders Raila Odinga and Kalonzo Musyoka who have been rallying their troops to comply were even present to mobilise turn-up silently to make the numbers but in vain.

In the House were 212 members, 11 members less, only for the figure to scale down to 207 further complicating the matter. And realising that the bill was headed for anonymous defeat, Leader of Majority Aden Duale sought to have the vote pushed to a later date.

Duale had two options, one being to have the bill subjected to vote or request Muturi to have the voting deferred to the next session of the current Parliament.

According to Duale if the vote was to be taken and the 233 number not achieved, then the bill would have been lost, meaning that it could only be brought back after six months.

Published afresh

“The reintroduction will mean it be published afresh and must undergo all the process required once a bill is introduced,” Duale reminded members, adding; “The impact of this and according to the House rules, the earliest the bill can see the light of the day is in June 2019, if all the factors remain constant.”

He pleaded with members to allow the bill to be deferred, saying by doing so, they will save it from being dropped and remain with voting and the second reading in February next year.

“The claim that it will lapse does not hold. It does not require rocket science that we are not 233. I don’t want history to judge me harshly. We will have an opportunity, we will lobby more and when the time comes, I will reply,” Duale told the attentive members.

He said as the bill was not an ordinary one, he needed more time  to write his replying notes.

“There are those of us who want to throw the baby with the bath water. Others want to use the short cut. I seek your indulgence to allow for deferment of replying and voting,” Duale pleaded.

Minority leader John Mbadi supported Duale, saying it makes sense to defer the bill.

He said that if there were 233 MPs in the House, members would have no difficulties in going for a vote.

Speaker Muturi said the House Business Committee will meet  on Tuesday to consider the matter and decide when the bill will appear on the Order Paper for consideration.

Kikuyu MP Kimani Ichung’wah proposed an amendment to exempt elective seats from gender requirement.

However Homa Bay Women’s Rep Gladys Wanga sought to have those in the House counted to ascertain whether the threshold had indeed been missed.

“We are concerned that the bill being a constitutional one,  will take another 90 days for it to mature, that is, if it is reintroduced, before members can start debate on it afresh,” Wanga said.

The law provides that a constitutional bill will mature after 90 days after its introduction. This means that 90 days from June next year, the bill will be ready for debate in September 2019 and it is then that it may be reintroduced.

However, all this will be subject to the House Business Committee giving it priority and if it is not, debating the bill might end up being extended to 2020.

Bill flopped

The Eleventh Parliament attempted to pass the bill in 2016 but it again flopped after failing to hit the 233 magical number.

For the bill to sail through, the support of the Jubilee Party, the largest in the House, is crucial because it requires two-thirds majority or at least 233 of the 349 MPs in the National Assembly to sail through as contemplated under Article 256 of the Constitution.

It is along this background that the leadership sought to defer the bill for it to be relevant in the next session of the Twelfth Parliament which starts in February next year.

Standing Order 141 (1) of the National Assembly provides that a bill, the second reading or third reading of which has been rejected, may be introduced again in the next session, or after the lapse of six months in the same session but subject to fresh publication.

However, sub clause (2) provides that a bill whose second reading has been concluded at the end of a session it was published, shall resume in the next session of the same parliament at the stage where it was interrupted.

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