Cord legislators dramatically held up a special session of the National Assembly on Tuesday to protest over the controversial changes to a 2017 elections law and related regulations.
By late Tuesday evening, the MPs were still debating the controversial changes amid heckling. The special session, for which the MPs had been specifically recalled, could not be extended.
Early in the day, a security cordon was thrown around Parliament buildings before debate started.
Protesting opposition MPs blocked National Assembly Speaker Justin Muturi from making his way into the Chamber for two hours as they tried to block debate on the Elections Laws (Amended) Act and the yet-to-be approved Election Regulations that will govern the next polls.
Led by Mbita MP Millie Odhiambo, the MPs blocked Mr Muturi from entering the House at 9.30am by clutching at the doors of the August House to ensure that the Mace — the Assembly’s symbol of authority — did not get into the House. Members cannot transact any business without the Mace, an eight kilogramme gold-plated symbol usually placed on a table at the centre of the House.
At noon, Majority Leader Aden Duale emerged from a crisis meeting, announcing that the standoff had been resolved.
“We have had a presentation from the IEBC and the Communications Authority. Over 25 per cent of Kenya and over 2,000 sub-locations do not have the requisite network for the foreseen transmission of results,” Mr Duale told journalists in reference to the proposed amendment to have a backup to the electronic identification of voters and transmission of results.
Later, when the MPs tried to block the Mace for a second time, they were outmanoeuvred by the Parliament orderlies. The House’s symbol of authority then became its most guarded asset, with two guards, and at one time four, guarding it.
In the House, it became quickly apparent that it was not only Cord and Jubilee that were squabbling over the election laws, the Justice and Legal Affairs Committee, whose members were the originators of the contentious amendments, was divided.
“We must not use the powers we have to make laws that will drive this country to anarchy. I sit in the committee and this matter has not been presented to us,” said one committee member, Mr Johana Ng’eno (Emurua Dikirr, KNC).
Cord leaders stood their ground that it was a mistake for the Jubilee Coalition to propose the amendments, which among other things, provide that the electoral commission can use manual means to identify voters and transmit election results in case technology fails.
While Jubilee says that the amendment was necessary to ensure that voters are not locked out should technology fail in a polling station, Cord has insisted that the commission had been funded well and should deploy technology that should not fail.
Immediately after Mr Duale tabled the amendments, pandemonium broke out in the Chamber.
“Mr Speaker, we are here unnecessarily. Please, send us home, I plead with you,” said Deputy Minority Leader Jakoyo Midiwo. “Let us not allow this lawmaking body to be used to make the wrong laws. And there is no way you can say that it is only Jubilee, and not Cord, that can see bad elections and want to rectify it.”
However, Mr Duale said that the amendments he sought to be “recommitted” had passed through all procedures, a claim that the Cord team denied.
“How do you say you recommit completely different laws that were not in the amendment? What we are seeing is desperation par excellence,” said Ms Gladys Wanga (Homa Bay County, ODM).
At one point, Mr Muturi asked the Justice and Legal Affairs Committee chairman, Mr Samuel Chepkong’a, to explain to the House how the report was adopted.
He directed that Mr Chepkong’a tables the report showing when the amendments were discussed, the proposed amendments and how the committee adopted the report.
“The issue is not whether you have a report of the IEBC, Hon Chepkong’a,” Mr Muturi said as the House grew more agitated. “It is whether what you have just tabled was debated by your committee and that there is a report to it.”
Earlier, Mr Chepkong’a had said that while the document was from the IEBC, the committee had sat, listened to the proposed amendments and adopted them.
“This is a report of the IEBC itself,” said Mr Chepkong’a. “And I can table the report. I do not have it here because I did not think that people will say that it was not discussed in the committee.”
However, David Ochieng (Ugenya,ODM) said: “I am a member of the JLAC committee. I was there when the IEBC CEO made his presentation, and I can tell you that there was nothing discussed like is in this report.”
Mr Peter Kaluma (Homa Bay Town, ODM) said: “What is this that Jubilee wants to show us that they are the only ones who care about elections? Elections are for all of us, but we cannot use this House to sneak in laws that were not available.”
Meanwhile, the House on Tuesday rejected in totality the Election Campaign Finance Regulations that sets limits for how much candidates should spend in their campaigns, as well as a now-contentious requirement for them to open and file with the electoral agency bank accounts they will use for the 2017 elections.