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ECK Bill shelved, for now

NAIROBI, Kenya, Dec 10 – The controversy over the disbandment of the Electoral Commission of Kenya took a new twist on Wednesday after a meeting of Members of Parliament opted to shelve the Constitution of Kenya Amendment Bill ‘to pave way for further consultations.’

The meeting that was attended by President Mwai Kibaki at Parliament’s Old Chamber came amid demands from backbenchers to amend the Bill to provide only for the dismissal of the ECK commissioners and not all staff.

“The Bill must be amended before we accept it. A number of issues that the members raised include the fate of the ECK workers, the eligibility of the Interim Independent Electoral Commission and a number of other anomalies,” Wajir West MP Adan Keynan told journalists after a meeting of all MPs at the Parliament Buildings’ Old Chambers.

Sources had earlier told Capital News that there was also discontent with a provision that gives the power to nominate new Commissioners to the National Accord Mediation Team and not the President.

The mediation team is also responsible for nominating judges to a special court that will be set up to handle disputes arising from the Constitution review process.

It’s understood that there was a heated meeting at Harambee House on Tuesday night where two Cabinet Ministers exchanged words over the mandate to nominate the new Commissioners.

Apart from Mr Kibaki, the Kamukunji (informal meeting) was attended by Prime Minister Raila Odinga and Vice President Kalonzo Musyoka, who is the official leader of government business in Parliament.

The meeting also resolved to extend Parliament’s sitting by a week.

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Mr Keynan said that backbenchers raised issues with a clause calling for the sacking of all ECK staff and demanding that it be expunged.

“It was felt that the Bill must be withdrawn so that the members can reflect on the changes that they want and we hope that this can happen before we go for recess,” Mr Keynan observed.

President Kibaki had joined MPs at the meeting in a bid to marshal support for the passage of the Bill.  The electoral reform Bill seeks to disband the ECK for meddling in the vote counting after last year’s election.

It will be replaced with a five-member Interim Independent Electoral Commission including the Chairman.

Mr Musyoka withdrew the Bill on Tuesday after the government sought more time to gather support from like-minded lawmakers.  The Bill will now undergo amendments, before it is returned to Parliament for debate.

“The Bill has been temporarily withdrawn and is now back to the committee of legal affairs and the Serena mediation team. Thereafter we will come to members so that we can garner the general consensus required to pass the constitutional amendments,” said the chairman of the parliamentary committee on legal affairs and justice, Abdikadir Mohamed.

The Bill that is a product of the Independent Review Commission (Kriegler Commission) which was appointed to look into last year’s disputed presidential results.

The Bill has elicited angry reactions from staff at the ECK who claim their dismissal together with the 22 commissioners is unjustified, since they were not directly involved in the polls.

The staff members earlier urged President Kibaki and Mr Odinga to prevail upon Parliament to amend the Bill to block their dismissal.

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