National Assembly Speaker Moses Wetang’ula’s active involvement in the Bungoma by-election campaigns for Ford Kenya candidate Wafula Wakoli has raised concern over his impartiality in steering Parliament.
Although the law does not expressly compel him to resign as a party official, lawyers and politicians say he should take a back seat in the affairs of his party, Ford Kenya.
A speaker, they argue, should not be seen to be aligned to a particular political party as it compromises his neutrality in running parliamentary affairs.
The law bars state officers from holding office in political parties. “Any appointed state officer shall not hold office in a political party,” states Article 77(2) of the Constitution.
This requirement, however, exempt the speakers, who are elected.
“He is an elected state officer and does not necessarily have to resign, but ethics and prudence require him to take a back seat in party activities; he is like a judge and justice should not just be done but also seen to be done,” said constitutional lawyer Bobby Mkangi.
“He ends up being seen as taking sides when he is actively involved in party affairs. Even if he is allowed, his conscience and prudence should not allow him to continue being a party official.”
In a previous interview, Mr Wetang’ula’s predecessor, Justin Muturi (now Attorney General), said a speaker should not hold an active party position, to remain impartial in discharging duties. “It is a very dicey situation, according to my experience; that is why you never saw me attend parliamentary group meetings of Jubilee or TNA in my first term. Attending such meetings ends up compromising your impartiality,” he said.
Mr Muturi said speakers hold special positions and should not just be seen to be impartial but also not lead a political party. He, however, explained that the presidential system has made it complicated.
He cited the US where outgoing Speaker of the House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi openly sided with the Democratic Party, her sponsor outfit.
Mr Muturi became Democratic Party (DP) party leader in the run-up to the August 9 General Election.
ODM chairman John Mbadi said Parliament needs to relook at the law allowing the Speaker to continue holding party office.
“When he promotes party interests out there, then he will not maintain neutrality in Parliament. It is a grey area that Parliament needs to look at because the Speaker needs to be neutral,” Mr Mbadi told Sunday Nation.
Democratic Action Party Kenya (Dap-K) Secretary General Eseli Simiyu described Mr Wetang’ula’s continued involvement in active party politics as the height of impunity.
Mr Eseli, whose DAP-K party has sponsored Wafula Wamunyinyi for the Bungoma senatorial by-election, accused Mr Wetang’ula of using his official vehicles for campaigns.
“It is just outright impunity. He is even using National Assembly vehicles to campaign in Bungoma. Azimio cannot get any favour from him as the speaker. That is why he ruled against Azimio on the majority side contest,” added Mr Eseli.
Vihiga Senator Godfrey Osotsi said best practice demands that speakers of parliament remain neutral.
“The protection of the integrity and supremacy of Parliament is paramount and speakers are expected to provide leadership. (Kenneth) Marende did very well in adhering to these ethos, despite having been fronted by ODM after the divisive post-election chaos of 2007,” he said.
“Muturi tried but messed up his legacy when he took sides towards the end of his term. The speaker’s seat is very holy and the holiness must be protected.”
But Ford Kenya deputy party leader Millicent Abudho and lawyer Danstan Omari said it is within Mr Wetang’ula’s right to continue engaging in politics.
Ms Abudho confirmed that Mr Wetang’ula remains the party leader and will continue participating in its activities. “He is a Member of Parliament and nothing stops him from holding a party position. What is the difference between him and President William Ruto and Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua, who are holding party positions?” he said.
Mr Omari said Mr Wetang’ula remains an elected state officer and there is no legal requirement for him to resign from the party.
“He has a right to participate in Ford Kenya party activities. The Standing Order on how he should conduct himself while on the floor is very clear. He does not take a vote on any issue,” he adds.
Prime Cabinet Secretary Musalia Mudavadi, AG Muturi, Foreign Affairs CS Alfred Mutua and Trade CS Moses Kuria were all compelled by law to resign after taking up the Cabinet slots. Only the President, Deputy President and MPs are exempted by the provision as they are elected through universal suffrage.