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Senate team races against time to collect views on election law

The Senate Legal Affairs Committee is racing against time to take views of as many stakeholders as it can before the January 4 deadline to hand over its report to Senate over the changes made to the Election Law (Amendment) Bill.

On Tuesday, the committee is expected to meet with the Attorney- General, Council of Governors, and Coalition for Credible Polls 2017, Media Owners Association, Civil Society Reference Group, and Computer Society of Kenya.

The Senate role in debating the Bill has been lauded as mature and sober as a result of meticulous prior planning.

Following the acrimonious session at the National Assembly, senators decided to take the high road and rewrite the script.

The Nation has learnt that before they proceeded to the Senate on Wednesday, Jubilee senators held a strategy meeting early morning where they planned  how to redo what the National Assembly had done.

In a meeting chaired by Leader of Majority Kithure Kindiki at Serena Hotel, Jubilee senators, who are the majority, resolved not to take the acrimonious path taken by the National Assembly but instead called for public participation.

The senators also agreed to ensure that they brought down the political temperatures by ensuring that there will be another sitting.

This led Speaker Ekwe Ethuro to direct the Legal Affairs Committee, led by Busia Senator Amos Wako, to collect views on changes made to the Bill and present its report on Wednesday.

The decision by the Senate took the steam out of Cord’s planned demonstrations and was forced to cancel their Wednesday demonstration to allow the Senate process.

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“The decision by Senate snatched the opportunity National Assembly had given to Cord. It robbed Cord off a key talking point that there was no public participation. Cord will have to devise new talking points now,”  said a Jubilee senator who sought anonymity.

The senator confirmed that senators met in a forum chaired by Prof Kindiki and which was also attended by his deputy Kipchumba Murkomen and Chief Whip Beatrice Elachi.

PUBLIC PARTICIPATION

Despite pressure from many quarters within Jubilee, the senators agreed to go through the motions of the law-making process. Some of the pressure came from State House operatives who had said that there was no time for public participation.

National Assembly members did not provide for public participation as the Constitution  requires and there was a danger that if the Bill was passed, it could attract lawsuits.

Cord had demanded that the Bill be taken back to the joint select committee on the IEBC deliberations that had crafted it. But National Assembly Speaker Justin Muturi dismissed this suggestion.

“The bipartisan committee finished its work. Suggesting that we refer the matter to the committee is wrong, it’s like saying that we go back to Committee of Experts because they came up with the Constitution, or Americans go back to their founders every time they need an interpretation.

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The committee finished its work and the law was signed by the President. Any Act of Parliament is amendable by Parliament. And, in amending, Parliament doesn’t need to recall the committee. They finished their job and became functus officio,” he said.

The presence of police officers in the precincts of Parliament also saw senators close ranks and demand their withdrawal.

This was unlike in the National Assembly a week earlier where Jubilee members did not raise a finger at the presence of police.

When the senators debated the matter, Speaker Ekwe Ethuro directed that police be withdrawn. The Speaker also directed the issue be investigated by the Senate Committee on Security.

The Senate session was a stark contrast to the National Assembly with the former receiving accolades for its conduct.

The National Assembly had succeeded in raising political temperatures by passing the Bill with the controversial amendments. The chaotic sitting was punctuated with fistfights, name calling, an attempt to grab the mace and claims that some MPs had used pepper-spray against their colleagues.

Journalists were asked to leave the gallery and the live broadcast of the session was switched off.

SYSTEM FAILURE

The Bill reinstated provisions for manual identification of voters in case the electronic system fails.

The House also adopted a proposal for manual transmission of results, which the opposition is opposed to.

Cord then moved to court to challenge revision of the negotiated electoral regulations but Justice George Odunga declined to issue orders.
Prof Kindiki said he was happy with the path that the Senate took.

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“I am cautiously optimistic that come January 4, we shall give Kenya a way forward one way or another. Between now and then Kenyans, irrespective of their race, creed or gender, have an opportunity to contribute to the important national debate and that is how things should be handled,” he said.
Given the urgency that the Bill has been given, it is unlikely Jubilee senators will vote to alter it.

If the Bill is altered, the two Speakers of Parliament have to appoint a mediation committee that will come up with a compromise report. That, in itself, will take more time.

Jubilee enjoys a majority of 27 elected senators out of 47. Nominated senators will not vote.

Makueni Senator Mutula Kilonzo Jnr said that after sustained campaigns to undermine the Senate by National Assembly, senators  have risen up to the occasion.

“When National Assembly locked themselves in chambers to pass 35 amendments and proposals to different laws without debate, they set a bad precedent. The Senate reinforced the tenets of the Constitution on public participation and independence,” he said. 

He predicted that “Cord will most likely reject the amendment introducing section 44 A; the complimentary mechanism to identify voters and results transmission.”

Cord’s co-principal Kalonzo Musyoka said that Cord principals will meet on January 5 to deliberate on the next course of action.

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