Plan to drop women seats from new laws

Thursday August 18 2011

By BERNARD NAMUNANE [email protected] AND EMEKA MAYAKA-GEKARA [email protected]

The Cabinet wants the Constitution changed to remove the requirement that at least a third of MPs in the next Parliament be women. (Read: Elect 72 women MPs or forget Parliament)

Chaired by the President, the Cabinet debated various options on how to ensure that at least a third of all persons elected are women and concluded that it was “technically impossible to achieve”.

In a democratic system, elections are competitive and predicting the gender of the winner is impossible. Cabinet also agreed to meet for a record third time tomorrow to speed up Bills that must be passed by the August 27 deadline.

“With regard to the requirement for one third representation in Parliament by either gender, Cabinet decided to set up a task force to prepare a Constitution Amendment Bill to deal with this important requirement that is technically impossible to achieve under the current stipulation,” said a statement by the Presidential Press Services (PPS).

Article 81(b) of the Constitution says: “Not more than two-thirds of the members of elective public bodies shall be of the same gender.”

This meant that at least 72 of the 290 constituencies must elect women MPs, in addition to the 47 county seats set aside for them.

The decision was reached during discussions on the Elections Bill, which had proposed that if an election outcome fails to meet the Constitutional threshold, the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) will randomly pick one quarter of the 290 constituencies where an exclusive mini-election for women will be conducted to meet the requirement.

On Tuesday, the Cabinet failed to agree on the provision and tasked a sub-committee to explore more options.

However, sources said the committee did not agree on the way forward.

The resolution is likely to infuriate those seeking greater women’s representation in the House.

Federation of Women Lawyers of Kenya (Fida) official and women rights activist Judy Thong’ori had threatened to move to court to block Cabinet attempts to reduce the number of women MPs in the National Assembly and the Senate.

The provision may sail through easily in Parliament as it is contained in Chapter Seven and requires only a simple majority to pass.

The Cabinet also approved the Elections Bill.

Said the PPS: “The meeting held at State House approved for publication and tabling in Parliament the Elections Bill. It will provide the legal framework for the conduct and management of election and referenda at the county and national levels.”

The Bill sets procedures for elections, registration of voters, conduct of elections, nomination of representatives of special groups, recall of MPs and resolution of election disputes.

It further prescribes tough penalties for election offenders, among them a fine of up to Sh10 million for voter bribery and disqualification from the race.