Kenyan President Challenged to Get Rid of a Parliament He Needs

Kenya’s top judge called for the dissolution of parliament, threatening to bring President Uhuru Kenyatta’s legislative agenda to a halt two years before his term ends.

In an advisory note, Chief Justice David Maraga said Kenyatta should dissolve parliament for failing to enact legislation on gender quotas as required by a new constitution adopted in 2010. The advice leaves Kenyatta with the choice of either complying and triggering a series of by-elections, or defying Maraga and risk have new laws challenged in court.

National Assembly Speaker Justin Muturi challenged the guidance, saying the state, and not parliament alone, is responsible for enacting legislation on gender quotas.

“The Kenyan parliament has been wrongly castigated for failure to enact the relevant legislation,” Muturi said in a statement published in the Standard newspaper on Tuesday.

State House spokeswoman Kanze Dena didn’t immediately respond to calls and a message requesting comment on Tuesday.

Building Bridges

With his second five-year term expiring in 2022, Kenyatta needs parliament’s backing to fulfill his so-called Big Four program to build more houses, improve health-care and boost manufacturing and farming output. Implementing the plan may require lawmakers to approve more borrowing at a time when the coronavirus pandemic is curbing government revenue.

Maraga’s advice also comes as Kenyatta and opposition leader Raila Odinga put the final touches on a plan to overhaul the way the country is governed. Under the so-called Building Bridges Initiative, they’re proposing replacing the winner-takes-all electoral system that’s spawned ethnic violence with a more inclusive government that would include the reintroduced post of prime minister.

“Parliament is critical to the BBI agenda,” said Bobby Mkangi, a lawyer who was part of the committee of experts who drafted the new constitution.

The judiciary under Maraga has had a fractious relationship with Kenyatta’s administration. In 2017, the Supreme Court annulled Kenyatta’s election victory and ordered for a new vote, which he later won. Maraga, whose tenure as chief justice expires early next year, has also publicly criticized the government for cutting the judiciary’s budget.

Maraga’s guidance didn’t impose a deadline, although the constitution requires action “without unreasonable delay” in cases where a time-frame is not prescribed.

Kenya’s parliament currently consists of the National Assembly and the Senate. The former has 349 members, of which 47 are guaranteed for women who are elected by the nation’s counties. The latter has 67 senators, of whom 16 are women nominated by political parties according to their proportion of elected senators.

“The chief justice has handed the president a legacy,” said Ekuru Aukot, a lawyer who served as chief executive of the committee of experts that helped draft the new constitution. Kenyatta “should grab this opportunity and let Kenyans remember him as the president who respected the constitution,” he said.

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