February 23rd 2018

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Editors challenge MPs over political tensions: Warn of violence if vested interests are allowed to overtake national good

“Today the country is gripped by political tension over the IEBC question, but instead of the rival political groups seeking to defuse it for the good of the nation, we see people who are supposed to be umpires taking partisan positions that escalate the tension.”

By Judy Wamuyujwamuyu@kenyafreepress.comWednesday, 08 Jun 2016 13:13 EAT

CORD supporters demonstrate to demand disbandment of IEBC (Photo by Allan Muturi/Kenya Free Press)

Editors want National Assembly Speaker Justin Muturi to take charge of his docket in an impartial manner in order to ensure the integrity of the House and restore public confidence in the institution. Editors Guild chairman Linus Kaikai led his colleagues in calling upon the 11th Parliament to show leadership in defusing the rising political tensions that have gripped the country over the stalemate surrounding the IEBC and election management in general ahead of the 2017 polls.

Speaking in Nairobi during the annual breakfast consultative forum between members of the Guild and the leadership of the National Assembly, Mr Kaikai called upon the Speaker to put national interest ahead of partisan loyalties in his stewardship of the House, especially during such difficult times when cut-throat competition for political space has split the  country along ethnic lines.

He challenged Mr Muturi to exercise the Solomonic wisdom exhibited by his predecessor, Kenneth Marende, at a time when rivalries within the then coalition government often threatened to tear the fabric of the nation.

Said he: “Today the country is gripped by political tension over the IEBC question, but instead of the rival political groups seeking to defuse it for the good of the nation, we see people who are supposed to be umpires taking partisan positions that escalate the tension.”   

Presently, Kenya risks hurtling to the brink of another precipice as rival political coalitions feud over how to initiate and implement the necessary reforms in election management system ahead of the 2017 general elections. The ruling Jubilee coalition has taken an intransigent stand, insisting that any electoral reforms ahead of 2017 be initiated and managed by Parliament, especially the National Assembly, where it enjoys a ‘tyranny of numbers’ that will certainly ensure they control the process. On the other hand, the opposition Cord coalition feels that the reform process be initiated outside Parliament so that it involves a wide range of stakeholders and only given to Parliament to rubber stamp the outcome.    

These two opposing positions have put supporters of the respective coalitions on a collision course that could easily degenerate into politically-motivated violence. 

 “Look at the social media and you will see the kind of animosity and division among Kenyans. We urge you Mr Speaker to rise above politics and provide leadership in Parliament so that through our MPs we can have unity,” the Guild chairman said.  

Kaikai cautioned the speaker against getting immersed in the supremacy battles between the ruling coalition and the opposition coalition, calling upon him to provide leadership that will whip MPs to promote national unity and avert violence.

“Don’t fall in the same pit the same way majority of our leaders have done. Rise above politics and provide a forum for sober debate in Parliament by ensuring a level playing field,” Kaikai said.

He further said the current political division between the opposition and the government has put the media in an awkward position as far as fair reporting and objectivity is concerned.

“We have been forced as media industry to divide our TV screens and Front Pages in two in a bid to provide fair coverage and accommodate both the opposition and the government, it’s not a comfortable position but it can be solved if there is proper debate in parliament,” Kaikai said.

Present was Majority Leader in the National Assembly Aden Duale who scoffed at the media, accusing a section of it of bias in reporting on the IEBC stalemate.

The majority leader said there has been a lot of non-factual reporting on the debate pointing out that some media houses are insinuating that Parliament has agreed to disband IEBC.

“Media must help us to defend the Constitution, nowhere in Parliament or within the Justice and Legal Affairs committee has the issue to disband IEBC been agreed on,” Duale said.

Duale further claimed that media houses have also laced their reportage with tribal undertones which has in turn affected their work in telling the country the truth.

“In as much as the media concentrate on the press conferences of politicians, they must also not forget to tell Kenyans the truth,” he said.

He also vowed to oppose any agreement between President Kenyatta and opposition leaders on the future of IEBC if such agreement falls outside the provisions of Article 251 of the constitution which provides for the procedure for disbanding a constitutional commission.

“We need to make sure that any agreements President Kenyatta reaches with Cord are in line with the Constitution. Cord’s demands are a blatant contravention of Chapter 15 of the Constitution on commissions and independent offices,” he said.

In response, the Speaker welcomed the Guild’s challenge but insisted that his hands were tied by the law as far as the IEBC issue is concerned.

He said, “As Speaker, I can only ensure fair debate according to the Constitution, statute and rules of the House. Beyond that, there is nothing else I can do. As far as the IEBC and electoral reforms are concerned, the letter of the law must prevail.

Judy is a contributing writer for the Kenya Free Press

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