Failure by women MPs to lobby their male colleagues saw the elusive two-thirds gender rule bill flop for a record fourth time yesterday, with the National Assembly failing to marshal enough numbers to vote on it.
The bill seeks to bridge the gender disparity in the House by amending the Constitution to allow for extra nomination slots for women.
When Majority Leader Aden Duale responded to a motion to pave the way for voting, there were only 174 members in the House after a manual headcount in the chamber, meaning that the bill could not proceed to the next level.
Out of the 75 women lawmakers in the National Assembly, only about 20 were in the House, raising questions about the commitment of the Kenya Women Parliamentary Association (Kewopa), chaired by Kirinyaga Woman Representative Purity Ngirici, to the rule.
“The presence of Kewopa exists in boardrooms and press conferences. Just like in December last year, it was not felt, as it was nowhere … … there was no lobbying in and out of Parliament,” said a member of the association who did not want to be named.
The Constitution provides that at least 233 of the 349 MPs, two-thirds of the members, must be in the House before the Speaker puts the question on the motion. Consequently, the 233 members must proceed to vote on the bill to allow it proceed to the next stage.
The bill can now only be reintroduced after six months, according to House standing orders. “I cannot put the question because of the numbers in the House. The motion is therefore lost,” Speaker Justin Muturi said.
The development puts Parliament in a precarious position as anyone can petition a court to have it dissolved for failing to enact the legislation.
It was due within the first five years of enacting the Constitution in 2010 but has been delayed by a series of extensions and court rulings.
In an apparent show of lack of commitment from women legislators, it took the intervention of Speaker Muturi and Mr Duale last week to get Kewopa members to shelve a trip to the US for a United Nations conference so that they would vote on the bill.
“It is important for the House to heed to the provisions of the Constitution. Mobilise on Wednesday to express yourselves in one way or another,” Mr Muturi said last week in response to the association's request that the trip be sanctioned.
In the first headcount, 134 members were identified electronically and 22 manually, but because of the ongoing system upgrade eight were not identified even after logging into the system.
This anomaly forced Mr Muturi to order a manual headcount and the numbers rose to 174.
There are 75 women MPs in the House, with at least 39 more required to meet the constitutional threshold.
The Senate, with 21 women members out of 67, is three members shy of the requirement.
The bill failed in the last session just as MPs were proceeding on their Christmas recess. Mr Duale withdrew it upon sensing a lack of quorum to send it to the third-reading stage.
Mr Duale noted that the failure to pass the bill may put Parliament in a serious conflict with the Constitution.