BY JOSEPH KAMOTHO
President Mwai Kibaki deserves a pat on the back for rekindling sanity and hygiene in the Legislature that was about to become like a gambling casino and an arena for experimenting political manipulations and intrigues.
The president vetoed the infamous and retrogressive fundamental legislative changes to the Political Parties and Elections Acts initiated by no lesser person than a man of God, Reverend Mutava Musyimi who dreams of succeeding Kibaki soon. Because of the self- serving nature of the amendments, the Head of State referred the changes back to the Legislature for further deliberations.
After Parliament re-amended the contentious clauses, President Kibaki finally signed the Bill into law.
Had the president signed into law the initial changes, switching of parties without the constituents’ authority would have been legal and presidential contest would have as many spoilers than serious contenders as is the case today.
A presidential candidate would contest other positions and be eligible for a nomination slot in Parliament in the event he fails to capture the seat. A member of a party for 45 days could have contest an election on the ticket of the new party in contravention of the law that stipulates six months.
Under the new and the previous Constitution, a member who decides to change parties before the end of the term, must seek fresh mandate. Many of the lawmakers have taken advantage of weaknesses in the enforcement of this legislation and hopped from one party to another.
Defectors are also expected to inform the Speaker of the decision. In known history, very few of renegades have taken the bold step.
The proponents of the ill-fated changes should be reminded that parties nominate candidates for parliamentary seats in various constituencies in which they are expected to serve the electorate for a period of five years not less and perform legislative and oversight roles not on a part time basis. Notwithstanding this contractual obligation, defection is fashionable since the country was transformed into a multi party and that is what the likes of Musyimi want to encourage and condone in the new dawn.
Kenyans wondered aloud what sort of a country the Reverend and other presidential hopefuls would lead with a split Cabinet and a legislature full of dual party members or renegades. Little does the churchman know that passing laws in a legislature of unruly members would be a problem.
But the electorate were in shock to hear their representatives sit and deliberate on amending the law to provide for hopping from one party to another without losing a parliamentary seat. As a result, they are in court to challenge the membership status of these defectors. Parties have been relegated to election conveyor belts, gutters for party nomination rejects and dissidents.
Parties worth their name should discipline erratic members regardless of their position in society. But party leaders are constrained by a number of factors to act, one being the influence some of the deserters wield amongst their tribes.
It is emerging that the motive behind the ill fated changes was to pre-empt legal action against 100 colleagues that had changed parties, bought others in an auction and launched new ones as election conveyor belts.
State Officers are also banned from holding positions in political parties but it did not come as a surprise that the MPs amended that law to exempt themselves from the rule that could have instilled discipline in political entities. The latter day amendments are dress rehearsals for further mutilation of the constitution to suit circumstances.
A vote recall for non performing MPs was introduced in the new constitution to tame absenteeism and lackluster performance in the legislature. But parliamentarians are poor performers not because of lack of academic qualifications but personal interests. It is common for MPs to appear in the House for a minute and then walk away leaving the House without a quorum. Quorum hitches often derail and interrupt legislative proceedings.
In the not too distant future, MPs may propose the repeal of the vote recall clause for some imaginary reasons and other flimsy factors.
If Kenyan lawmakers played by the set out rules and relinquished their party positions , the habitual switching of parties by elected leaders midway would be a thing of the past. In view of the political nuisance and the threat to multi-party democracy, the Political Parties Act was enacted to instill discipline in parliamentary parties and possibly nurture ideological outfits as opposed to ethnic and regional organizations that often masquerade as mass movements.
(The writer is a former cabinet minister and secretary general of the longest ruling party, Kenya African National Union (KANU) Email: firstname.lastname@example.org)