Security personnel yesterday besieged Parliament, blocking all roads to the chambers, disabling internet and telephone communication around the August house as opposition and pro-government MPs clashed over proposed amendments to election laws.
The crisis began at 9 a.m. after opposition MPs, who had been forced to walk to the House, amid heavy police presence, temporarily crippled business by blocking the Speaker from entering the chambers.
The MPs were in Parliament for a special session that had been called to amend the Electoral Laws (Amendment) Act, 2016 – a move the opposition Cord opposed.
Key among the amendments that the government wanted passed before the MPs break for Christmas is the enactment of a provision allowing the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) to manually identify and transmit election results where electronic gadgets fail in the August 8, 2017 General Election.
Police cordoned off Parliament buildings as early as 6 a.m. forcing MPs and staff to access the buildings on foot.
Communication networks (mobile and internet) were also disabled within the precincts, making it impossible for MPs and journalists to relay information outside Parliament.
Samuel Chepkonga, who chairs the National Assembly’s Justice and Legal Affairs committee, sponsored the amendments that require the IEBC to put in place an alternative and complementary mechanism for identification and transmission of election results that is simple, accurate, verifiable, secure, accountable and transparent.
“The Commission shall use the alternative mechanism for identification and transmission of election results only where the technology initially deployed fails,” the Bill says.
Before using the alternative mechanisms for identification and transmission of election results, the IEBC will be required to notify the public and all candidates and immediately cause the notification to be published in the electronic media and in at least two daily newspapers of national circulation, detailing the reasons necessitating the use of alternative mechanisms.
Police trucks with water cannons were stationed on all roads leading to Parliament, causing a heavy traffic snarl-up on City Hall Way and Harambee Avenue.
Coalition for Reforms and Democracy (Cord) MPs insisted that no comma or full stop would be removed or added to the negotiated electoral laws.
Cord successfully spearheaded weekly protests early this year that resulted in the removal from office of the IEBC commissioners.
Opposition MPs argued that that there had been no consultations on the proposed amendments yet the parent law was the product of a negotiated settlement between Cord and Jubilee through a bipartisan committee co-chaired by Senators Kiraitu Murungi and James Orengo.
The Cord MPs chanted and barricaded the corridors leading to the chambers, ostensibly to bar Speaker Justin Muturi from entering the House to lead proceedings that were slated to begin at 9.30 a.m.
“The gazetted time for this sitting was 9.30 a.m. Even if they make their way into the chamber, the session will be illegal because it’s way past that time,” said Olago Aluoch (Kisumu West MP).
The paralysis prompted Mr Muturi to summon the Majority and Minority leaders to an urgent meeting to break the impasse.
Mr Muturi then emerged from his office, accompanied by Majority Leader Aden Duale, his minority counterpart, Francis Nyenze, and other leaders from the two coalitions and briefly engaged the picketing MPs before they agreed to hold an informal meeting, popularly known as the Kamukunji to build consensus on the contentious issues.
At 12.10 p.m. Mr Muturi escorted by House orderlies and heavily armed security personnel in plainclothes made his way to the chambers even as Cord legislators lined up on the corridors in protest.
After push and shove, the Speaker got into the chamber and opened the proceedings even as Cord MPs continued to chant slogans, terming the session’s illegal and un-procedural.
From the onset, aggrieved MPs raised concerns over the procedure that was used to present the proposed amendments fronted by Mr Duale and Mr Chepkonga.
Mr Chepkonga found himself in trouble after members of the Legal Affairs committee disowned the proposed amendments, insisting no committee session ever approved the report and proposed changes said to have originated from the IEBC.
Committee member Antony Kimaru (Laikipia East), Johana Ngeno (Emurua Dikir), David Ochieng (Ugenya), Tom Kajwang (Ruaraka) and Gem MP Jakoyo Midiwo distanced themselves from the proposed changes, saying the amendments were private and personal to Mr Chepkonga.
They said the House had no report from which to derive the amendments.
Mr Ochieng accused Mr Chepkonga of trickery, saying the committee never discussed the issue of manual voter identification and results transmission but biometrics when the IEBC appeared before it.
But Mr Chepkonga insisted that the matter had been discussed and was properly before the house.
Mr Muturi directed Mr Chepkonga to produce the records of the House committee proceedings showing the MPs had agreed to sponsor the amendments to the Election Laws (Amendment) Act, 2016 allowing manual voter identification and transmission of results in the event electronic mechanisms fails.