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MPs yet to solve gender conundrum

NAIROBI, Kenya, Sept 25 – Members of Parliament have once again postponed debate on a key Constitutional Amendment Bill that seeks to explain how the one third gender rule in representation is to be met.

Speaking after a meeting with the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC), Commission for the Implementation of the Constitution (CIC) and Commission on Revenue Allocation (CRA), the MPs agreed that there was need to consult further on the Bill before it is introduced in the August House for debate and enactment.

Parliament’s Constitutional Implementation Oversight Committee (CIOC) chairman Abdikadir Mohammed said the purpose of the meeting was to seek consensus among MPs before the proposed legislation was brought to the House by Constitutional Affairs Minister Eugene Wamalwa.

“We have formed a small team to continue with the lobbying process, in three ways to get the Executive and Parliament to very seriously work on getting those numbers through the two Principals and the Cabinet and the political parties’ leadership,” Mohammed stated.

The debate on the Bill was set to come up for debate on Tuesday afternoon in a move that would have provided the way to implement one of the difficult and controversial issues of representation as contained in the Constitution today.

Wamalwa said the issue of how to ensure that no single gender exceeds two thirds of the membership of the House has been very divisive.

The Justice Ministry, that is sponsoring the Amendment Bill, has proposed a formula similar to that used to bridge the gap in the composition of County Assemblies.

According to the Amendment Bill, Political Parties participating in the general election will submit to the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) lists of nominees to the National Assembly, the County Assemblies and the Senate.

The Bill proposes that these lists be used to bridge the gap in the number of representatives to ensure that either gender is at least one third.

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If this requirement in representation is not met, then the August House or County Assemblies will be deemed to be illegal as they will not be properly constituted.

The MPs want to ensure that in the event the National Assembly fails to get the one third of either gender, the disadvantaged gender will get the required numbers through the names of those who will have been nominated.

Yatta legislator Charles Kilonzo has proposed to tackle this conundrum by stipulating that two women be elected from each county to the National Assembly as opposed to the current provision of one woman per county.

Under the current constitutional provisions, the National Assembly will comprise of 290 members elected from each constituency, 47 women representing each county and 12 members to be nominated by political parties. With the inclusion of an ex-officio Speaker, the National Assembly will therefore total 350 members.

Although Kilonzo’s proposal would push this figure up to 395, there would be a minimum of 94 women in the National Assembly. The Yatta MP argues that this would be much closer to attaining the at least 113 women representatives needed to meet the gender threshold.

Wamalwa has indicated that the proposal by Kilonzo was gaining popularity among legislators.

“The proposal is so far the most popular one and is gaining acceptability, although with some fine-tuning required. We are exploring ways of attaining a consensus and we believe that if we do it we can carry the amendment through,” said Wamalwa.

An earlier proposal by the IEBC, CIC and women groups encountered stiff resistance as it proposed to block a number of parliamentary constituencies and reserve them for women candidates, on a rotational basis.

But those opposed to the proposal said it was both undemocratic and untenable and may also offend the constitution which guarantees everyone a right to vie for an elective position.

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The Amendment Bill will require support of at least two-thirds of MPs to sail through Parliament.

Prime Minister Raila Odinga and the Attorney General Githu Muigai have been championing the adoption of the current amendment Bill.

“In the interest of the Constitution, the minorities and the disadvantaged, I urge all MPs, regardless of party affiliation, to support the Bill and vote for it in the House,” Odinga said on Monday.

On his part, the AG warned that if the matter was not addressed the next Parliament would be illegitimate and it would be impossible to rectify the mess created.

MPs have held two informal meetings (Kamukunji) seeking to strike a deal and marshal support for the Bill, but failed to agree. Some are opposed to the Bill, saying it would create a bloated National Assembly that is unsustainable.

Joint Government Chief Whip Jakoyo Midiwo wants the Constitution amended to have not more than 150 MPs in the National Assembly and a Constitutional referendum be carried out during elections so that the country can decide how many members they want in the National Assembly.


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