Jubilee and CORD are fighting mounting opposition to a crucial report on electoral reforms that is up for debate in Parliament today.
A proposal to block party hopping has fueled rebellion among MPs, threatening to scuttle the report that requires
a two-thirds majority in the National Assembly and Senate to pass.
The recruitment of new electoral chiefs is anothersticking issue on the report by the Joint Parliamentary Select Committee on affairs of the embattled Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC).
It emerged yesterday that MPs from both Jubilee and CORD have threatened to shoot down their colleagues’ report, sending panic among the two leading coalitions. The report was introduced in both Houses on Thursday last week, and is due for debate today.
There is also a feeling among some CORD MPs that the Opposition side was short-changed particularly over a proposal giving President Uhuru Kenyatta the power to appoint seven electoral commissioners from a list of 11 names.
Yesterday, CORD leader Raila Odinga led a parliamentary group meeting at which members are reported to have pressed their representatives in the negotiations, including Siaya Senator James Orengo, to explain why they gave in to such a proposal.
“The members were furious with the committee and especially the Senator. We could not understand why they agreed to have the President pick seven commissioners from a pool of 11,” said an MP who attended the meeting.
But Mr Orengo and his team reportedly defended themselves, saying they did not want to press for changes that would require rigorous constitutional amendments.
And in Parliament, MPs from across the political divide vowed to shoot down the report, arguing that the proposals to block defections after party primaries, which were pushed by the ruling coalition that anticipates a falling out over Jubilee Party, infringed on freedom of association.
MPs Kennedy Okong’o (Nyamira, Senator) and Henry ole Ndiema (Trans Nzoia, Senator), Priscilla Nyokabi (Nyeri Woman Rep), Peter Kaluma (Homa Bay Town) and Ken Okoth (Kibra) said the matter should be reviewed as it infringes on the democratic rights of aspirants.
“This report is going to flop. This punitive clause is a conspiracy between CORD leader Raila Odinga and President Uhuru Kenyatta’s coalitions to deny aspirants the opportunity to join other parties when they are locked out in the nominations,” said Mr Okong’o.
Ms Nyokabi and Mr Okoth also called for the provision to be reviewed. The proposed changes require parties to submit their membership lists at least 90 days to elections. Party primaries are to be conducted at least 60 days to polls which means if you lose at this stage you can’t defect because you won’t be a member of any other party.
In any case, no other party will have presented your name as an aspirant, as parties are to present names of persons contesting in their primaries and the date at least 21 days before the nomination day (at least 81 days to the elections).
Further, to stand as an independent candidate, you must not have been a member of any political party for at least three months preceding the date of the election, which means losers of party primaries are automatically locked out. Still, independent candidates are required to submit to IEBC their names at least 90 days before the election.
MPs from Jubilee and CORD, view these proposals as a big plot by party chiefs to stop defectors after contested primaries. It is on the back of these reservations that coalitions’ leaders were yesterday rallying their members to back the report.
“We have fully been briefed on the report and the bills and we fully support it. We call upon our members and the Jubilee members to support and pass the bills as they are,” Raila said yesterday.
Last week, President Kenyatta, too, asked Parliament to expeditiously consider the report. The President said this is “so the process of recruitment and appointment of new commissioners commences urgently to ensure elections are conducted on schedule by a polls body that enjoys broad confidence of Kenyans.”
TNA chairman Johnson Sakaja (nominated) yesterday warned his Jubilee colleagues of consequences for voting against the report.
“We are whipping our members to pass the report. Those who vote otherwise will have themselves to blame. We are waiting to see them,” he cautioned.
And ODM chairman John Mbadi (Suba) said: “Trying to shoot down this report is selfish. This was not a singular work but a joint effort despite members being uncomfortable with some resolutions. Electoral reforms are not a one-off affair, it’s progressive. It’s not static, there is a lot still to be done.”
Makueni Senator Mutula Kilonzo Jnr, who represented CORD in the joint select committee, warned of dire consequences if MPs attempt to move any amendments on the report or shoot it down.
“This was the first joint select committee report as provided for in Article 124 of the Constitution. There are no middle grounds, it is either the report is adopted by both Houses without amendments or rejected in total,” he said.
He added: “This was a negotiated process. We never had a vote on any of the issues agreed. The same goodwill should apply to the report and the addendum bills.”
National Assembly Speaker Justin Muturi, who is currently in Mauritius for the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association meeting, said the report is a political declaration. He explained that MPs can amend the Bills at a later stage.
“Amendments would normally be available to legislators to legislate on any proposed legislation (bills). The report, on the other hand is a political settlement,” Mr Muturi said.