Cabinet gets its way on change to Constitution


National Assembly Speaker Kenneth Marende on November 22, 2011 allowed Justice and Constitutional Affairs minister Mutula Kilonzo to table the controversial amendment Bill in the House on Wednesday.

The Cabinet on Tuesday got its wish to change the Constitution to allow the next election to be held in December.

This sets the stage for a battle with back benchers, who are strongly oppose such an amendment.

Although National Assembly Speaker Kenneth Marende urged caution on future changes to the Constitution, he allowed Justice and Constitutional Affairs minister Mutula Kilonzo to table the controversial amendment Bill in the House on Wednesday.

Mr Marende delivered a lengthy ruling amid foot thumping from the front bench.

MPs, who pushed for the Speaker’s ruling when Mr Kilonzo attempted to present the Bill three weeks ago, immediately protested, questioning past cases Mr Marende relied on to deliver the verdict.

Among those who asked the Speaker to re-think his ruling were MPs Gitobu Imanyara (Imenti Central, CCU), Danson Mungatana (Garsen, Narc Kenya), Boni Khalwale (Ikolomani, New Ford Kenya) and John Mbadi (Gwassi, ODM).

Mr Imanyara asked him what would happen if the country were to hold snap elections on Wednesday.

“Should there be a vacancy in the office of the Presidency, will we amend the Constitution before holding elections?” asked Mr Imanyara.

The Bill was conceived by Cabinet which argued that it would be impossible to hold the next elections on the second Tuesday in August in 2012 as provided for in the Constitution. (READ: Cabinet plots to woo Kenyans for December poll)

But an ecstatic Mr Kilonzo said in Parliament he was happy and added that a Bill “is just a proposal”. He promised the House that he would talk to MPs and convince them on the need to amend the Constitution.

A confidential Cabinet paper cited the budget cycle and a list of activities which have to be carried out before the elections.

MPs argued that the Bill was initiated by Cabinet and not MPs as required in the Constitution; that there was no public consultation and that it was sub judice since there was a case pending before the Supreme Court.

But Mr Marende ruled that ministers can initiate an amendment since they are still MPs.

The Speaker also argued that the Bill and the case in court were seeking different outcomes so it was not sub judice.

“The court is being asked to interpret the Constitution to state the precise election date but the Bill is seeking to change when the election date should be,” he said.

Mr Marende also said precedence had been set by various amendments to the old Constitution since independence, thus it could be done again.

He cited the 1982 amendment that changed Kenya into a de jure single party state and the 1992 repeal of Section 2A to allow multi-party politics.

He also referred to changes in the Uganda, India and South Africa constitutions.