Two-thirds gender rule: The big dilemma as August polls near

IEBC chairman Wafula Chebukati addresses journalists at Anniversary Towers in Nairobi on April 26, 2022, after a meeting with representatives of presidential candidates. 

Photo credit: Lucy Wanjiru | Nation Media Group

What you need to know:

  • Women leaders want the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) to reject political parties’ nomination lists that do not comply with the gender rule.
  • The IEBC recently said those that fail to comply will be barred from taking part in the August 9 election.

Women leaders have for several years been campaigning in vain to have the two-thirds gender rule realised.

They have lately been pressuring the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) to reject political parties’ nomination lists that do not comply with the gender rule.

And so, on May 9, it was good news for women after the IEBC issued a statement to political parties to comply. The agency noted that a section of parties submitted lists that had not complied.

It extended the deadline for political parties to resubmit amended lists that comply with the gender rule to May 12. The directive reignited a storm, which has attracted criticism and support in equal measure.

Registrar of Political Parties Ann Nderitu said parties have been in discussion with her office and the IEBC on how best to implement the gender question.

Ms Nderitu, citing the Constitution, said affirmative action demands that political parties make deliberate inclusion of women, persons living with disabilities, the youth and the marginalised.

On who is to blame for the non-compliance, she said the problem is not the political parties per se, as electing women starts by including them in political and electoral processes.

“Kenyans can only elect women and other special interest categories that have been fronted by parties. The problem is beyond political parties. Duty-bearing institutions and Kenyans have to reflect on the impact of inclusion or lack of it. We also need to overcome cultural inhibitions and package information to profile women as good leaders,” said Ms Nderitu.

However, some political parties indicated it would be difficult for them to comply. United Democratic Alliance (UDA) chairman Johnson Muthama said the party would not comply as ordered by the polls agency.

Muthama said it would be hard for them to revise their list of nominees in both the Senate and the National Assembly, saying it amounted to changing the wishes of the people.

“How are you going to change the list, yet that was the people’s wish? Where voters have made a decision, you cannot change,” Muthama said.

Preferred nominees

He added the people voted for their preferred aspirants democratically during nominations without any undue influence. The former Machakos senator said they were unbothered by the threats from the electoral commission on blocking them from participating in the August election.

Major political parties are facing the prospect of disqualification for non-compliance. The Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) and UDA are among those affected.

However, women leaders who spoke with Nation.Africa scoffed at the political parties ignoring the directive.

Dr Juliet Kimemia, a Kiambu gubernatorial aspirant on a Kanu ticket, called on the IEBC to stay put and not to give in to pressure. She said the buck stops with political parties and their leaders who should be held responsible for the gender rule debacle.

“The gender rule issue can be deliberate by political parties as they can decide to have preferred women candidates in some areas, more so their strongholds. Some of the candidates are normally pre-determined by the party leaders and they just need to rope in women,” said Dr Kimemia.

She added that the greatest challenge contributing to the lack of implementation of the gender rule 12 years after the promulgation of the Constitution is lack of political will.

“As things stand now, there is zero political will. If the leaders of political parties are serious on the implementation of the gender rule, it will be achieved without any more debate,” she said.

Polls postponement

The aspirant proposed that the election be postponed until political parties comply.

“The so-called will of the people is also in some instances pushed down the throat of the people through direct nominations and skewed party primaries. So it is not entirely true that amending the partly list will be changing the will of the people,” Dr Kimemia said.

Grace Kanya, an aspirant for the Kasarani Member of County Assembly (MCA) on Jubilee Party ticket, supported the move by the IEBC, saying political parties have no choice but to follow the Constitution.

“The political parties have all the powers to ensure that the gender rule is realised. If the rule cannot be achieved through the ballot, it is the onus of the political parties to ensure that it is achieved in their primaries. This would end up in the end result in many more women being elected,” she said.

UN Women has also waded into the matter by supporting the directive. In a statement to newsrooms, she noted that ensuring that party lists contain a constitutionally agreed threshold is an important milestone in the country’s elections that will contribute to a fairer, inclusive and more credible process.

Commitment

“UN Women remains committed to supporting Kenya in the implementation of constitutional commitments to achieving gender equality and women empowerment,” the statement read.

The National Gender and Equality Commission has also joined the debate by petitioning political parties to set aside a proportion of nominations for elective positions in every county for women candidates.

Chairperson Joyce Mutinda, in a press statement, called on election actors and stakeholders to ensure the electoral process is inclusive by complying with the principles of equality and inclusion ahead of the August 9 General Election.

Dr Mutinda said the IEBC directive is a constitutional requirement that provides that no one gender should occupy more than two thirds of appointive and elective seats.

The celebrations by women leaders have, however, been cut short after a city lawyer on Wednesday sued the electoral agency for the directive. The IEBC has been stopped from enforcing the directive, pending the outcome of the suit.

Mr Adrian Kamotho is also challenging the decision to impose communal punishment on all candidates by barring them from elections if the sponsoring political party fails to implement the rule.

The lawyer wants court to quash the notice, arguing that the directive is draconian and unreasonable.

The verdict of the court will determine whether the polls agency will go ahead to implement the gender rule. For now, the women leaders can only wait with baited breath.

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