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Wednesday, January 16, 2008

2-Nil as ODM takes Speaker, Deputy Speaker

ODM's Kenneth Otiato Marende pulled the rug from under the feet of Francis Xavier Ole Kaparo to become the Speaker of the 10th Parliament in a hotly contested cliff-hanger that lasted for seven hours. Kaparo has occupied the seat since Kenya went multi-party in 1992. One hour later, another ODM candidate, Farah Maalim, ran away with the Deputy Speaker’s position, putting the icing on the cake for the Opposition party that should rightly be sitting on the government side of the House.

Marende, the Emuhaya MP-elect who was backed by the Opposition side, won with 105 votes while Kaparo, backed by the Government side, got 101 votes. Marende’s victory now means a by-election will have to be conducted for his Emuhaya seat, which he automatically relinquishes.

In a special session of Parliament, which the House Clerk Samuel Ndindiri ruled would go on after the 6:30 pm parliamentary deadline, all 207 MPs were sworn in, including Kibaki. Only the Government side rose for Kibaki, who quietly made his way to the seat reserved for the President, just a couple of metres from Raila, who sat on the Leader of the Official Opposition’s seat. This contrasted with Hon. Raila's entry only a few minutes earlier, accompanied by ODM Pentagon member Hon. Najib Balala, as he was cheered in a standing ovation by the opposition side.

Nail-biting tension built up all afternoon going into the night as the election of the Speaker went into the third round after none of the contestants emerged outright winner. In the first round, Marende garnered 104 votes to beat Kaparo who got 99. Kalembe Ndile got two votes, another two were spoilt while Njoki Ndung’u and Wanyiri Kihoro got none. In the second round, Marende again beat his closest contestant by garnering 104 votes against Kaparo’s 102. Kihoro managed one vote while Ndung’u and Kalembe each got zero.

Trouble erupted when Ugenya MP, James Orengo, challenged the Clerk that the Standing Orders do not restrict members to voting by secret ballot as he had prescribed. "Would you tell us those provisions (of secret balloting in election of Speaker) in the Standing Orders from the time of Speaker Humphrey Slade up to Francis Kaparo’s where it’s written that the voting is by secret balloting? When some of you were so clear in their head in the Seventh Parliament, you made sure you deleted a provision requiring that MPs read the name of the President while taking their oath of allegiance." Whereupon Eldoret North MP William Ruto stood up: "You cannot change the rules. Show us where the secret ballot is written in the Standing Orders. We went for secret ballot in the General Election and you stole!" And so voting was carried out in a not-so-secret ballot, as ODM legislators, before voting, showed their marked ballot papers to Hamisi MP, George Khaniri, and Ndhiwa’s Orwa Ojode, who were noting them down on a paper.

The government side protested, but to no avail. "These people are used to rigging, that is why they are afraid of openness," said Ruto. At one point, having apparently had enough and afraid that his side would lose, "Vice President" Kalonzo Musyoka rose up on a point of order in an attempt to scuttle the voting. "We cannot participate in a flawed process in front of international media. Proceedings should be adjourned altogether," said Kalonzo. But his plea fell on deaf ears. Kisumu Rural MP, Prof Anyang’ Nyong’o, blasted Kalonzo saying: "You accepted being a Vice-President in a flawed process. Stop being involved in contradictions. Be clear in your mind!"

As the government lost control of the whole process, they had to bring in the Big Guns. Attorney-General Amos Wako joined the debate in the House. Wako read, then quoted Erskine and May, a book widely referred to in Parliament, detailing the House of Commons election of Speaker. "The Speaker has to be fair. Standing Orders mention no secret ballot but it has been a tradition that the House has always followed," said Wako. But the opposition were having none of it. Orengo accused Wako of reading a proposal and the National Assembly Powers and Privileges Act, which had nothing to do with election of Speaker."It’s my business to show my people who am voting for," continued Narok North MP William Ole Ntimama. Lagdera MP Farah Maalim carefully placed the final straw that broke Kibaki's back. Pointing an accusing finger to those on the Government side, Maalim said: "It is very sad to try and emasculate the wishes of the people. You must learn to win and lose. You cannot force an MP to vote the way you want."

In the end, the government had to wind its neck in as ODM carried the day. In his acceptance speech, Marende alluded to massive reforms in the House, including a provision of live coverage of proceedings. “The Tenth Parliament will have progressive reforms which will see the standing orders reviewed and modernised. I will be dynamic, competent and an honest Speaker. I will also make sure that Parliament remains alert to the needs of the people. And I will ask you not to look at my lips but at my heart.” Marende said he was proud of winning honourably, as that is how democracy should be carried out.

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