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Drama of the two-day Jubilee-Cord tussle over election law

At one point, journalists became targets of heavily-built, mean-looking security guards who were deployed in their numbers to block not only journalists from accessing the press gallery, but also from documenting the undoubtedly different way the House was conducting business.

It was two days of siege, grandstanding, fistfights and an unusually heavily guarded Parliament when Jubilee MPs used their numerical strength to pass the contentious amendments to the negotiated laws that will govern the 2017 General Election.

“This was a day of shame. I came here at 6.45, and I was forced to stay at the gate for 45 minutes to be let in. Police are all over Parliament and over 50 heavily armed police officers escorted the Speaker to the House, the first in history,” Senate Minority Leader Moses Wetang’ula aptly captured the scenario on Thursday.

Some minutes after the Thursday session started, NTV’s Kennedy Muriithi and Standard Media Group’s Moses Omusula were arrested and Mr Muriithi forced to delete the videos he had taken.

It all started last week when the Cord team vowed that the changes to the electoral laws would not pass on the floor of the House once the Tuesday Special Sitting was called.

And true to their word, the Opposition MPs came in large numbers, but it would only be evident at 9.30 am what their true intentions were.

MILLIE ADHIAMBO

Led by a bubbly, loud and ever-in-song Mbita MP Millie Odhiambo, the MPs blocked Mr Muturi from entering the House at 9.30 am by clutching at the doors of the august House to ensure that the Mace – the Assembly’s symbol of authority – does not get into the House.

The members cannot transact any business without the Mace, an eight kilogramme gold-plated metal that is usually placed at a table at the centre of the House.

And even after House Majority Leader Aden Duale said that things had gone back to normal, the Cord MPs, for the second time in less than three hours, tried to wrestle the Mace off an orderly, but were outmanoeuvred by an enhanced security team.

In the House, it became calm and it seemed the storm had passed. Until the contentious laws were brought to the floor.

Pandemonium!

“Mr Speaker, we are here unnecessarily. Please, I beg you, send us home,” House Deputy Minority Leader threw the first salvo.

But when the Jubilee team won debate on the need for the sitting, it quickly became apparent that there was an even bigger crack within the Ainabkoi MP Samwel Chepkonga-led Justice and Legal Affairs Committee – the originators of the contentious amendments.

MPs Johana Ng’eno (Emurua Dikirr), David Ochieng (Ugenya), and Peter Kaluma (Homa Bay Town) said that they had not sat as a committee to approve the amendments, forcing Mr Chepkonga to be asked to defend the report on the floor.

OTHER MATTERS

In the afternoon session, the MPs spent a lot of time discussing other matters that were on the Order Paper, way past the 6.30 pm scheduled time for such sittings to end, a situation Cord happily used to force the Speaker to adjourn.

But Mr Muturi added 55 minutes at 7.49 pm after an hour of haggling.

Twenty minutes to the added time, MPs from both sides rose and engaged in fistfights as some tried to grab the Mace.

At that time, the live broadcast of the session was switched off and Cord MPs would walk out minutes later, chanting victorious songs.

But it was short-lived. Mr Muturi, two hours later at 11 pm, called another sitting for Thursday.

And, in a case of once bitten, twice shy, Mr Muturi would this time state specifically the time the House should sit on Thursday.

But a sitting that was scheduled to last till midnight only took one hour and 15 minutes, with the Jubilee team passing the amendments in record speed, with no debate as their Cord colleagues walked out in protest.

Outside the House, Parliament Road and Harambee Avenue were closed to the public, with MPs forced to walk and subjected to frisking before entering the chambers.

At 10.43 am on Thursday, and after eight hours and 35 minutes spread across tense sessions on Tuesday and Thursday, the amendments that Cord has said it will demonstrate against, were passed.

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