Next week’s planned protest by the opposition against contentious amendments to the elections law might be indefinitely called off.
Opposition leaders Raila Odinga, Kalonzo Musyoka and Moses Wetangula last week announced that they would stage a nationwide mass demonstration on January 4, 2017 to protest the amendments which they claim could provide leeway for rigging in the forth-coming August general election.
“We want Kenyans to support this move. It is time to liberate and people should come out in large numbers to finally liberate Kenya,” they said during a press conference at Capitol Hill in Nairobi.
But there could be a change of heart after senators agreed to have fresh talks over the contentious amendments.
In a special sitting yesterday, senators agreed to shelve debate on the amendments until relevant public views have been taken into account, raising hopes for a compromise on an issue that had threatened to ignite chaos in the country.
The move is seen as an attempt to avert the planned protests and also give room for dialogue as solutions are sought.
Already, CORD supremo Raila Odinga has signaled the opposition leaders’ readiness to call off the demos with the former prime Minister saying they will take a position on the planned mass action after receiving full details of the latest’s developments from the senate.
Calling off the mass protest could come as a big relief for many especially after businessmen and property owners expressed fears that they could suffer loses as a result of demonstrations.
Most protests in the country have been characterized by ugly scenes, often resulting in death as anti-protest police clash with protesters like happened in June during the anti-IEBC demos.
The senate yesterday directed that relevant public views be taken into account.
Speaker Ekwee Ethuro directed the Standing Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights to invite human rights lobbies, members of the public and other stakeholders to air their opinions and table a report in the Senate on January 4.
That is expected to give room to the bi-partisan committee process.
Committee chairman, Busia Senator Amos Wako (ODM), welcomed the move and told his colleagues that public participation is a cardinal principle of the Constitution and should not be subverted by the push to pass the amendments.
“When the sitting was called, I was afraid that we will be hurried to debate the amendments, therefore ignoring public participation by the people who represent the sovereignty of Kenya,” said Mr Wako.
He said his committee would start sitting immediately and asked the clergy, the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) and civil and human rights groups to appear before it.
“Even for politicians, please come to our committee instead of discussing these things at funerals, churches and other places,” he appealed.
During the six hour debate of the special sitting, senators displayed an image of decorum and elegance compared to their National Assembly counterparts whose session degenerated into name calling and ugly fisticuffs last week.
Despite a ready provocation, by heavy police presence along and within parliament buildings, the senators chose not to go at each other’s jugular but instead articulate their anger through the speaker who later ordered police to leave.
They had been thoroughly frisked and had to leave their cars a distance away from their usual parking.
Debate was however delayed for an hour and a half as the senators called for the removal of the security officers.
“There have been extraordinary discussions from both sides of the divide since this issue threatened to tear the country apart.” Senate Majority Leader Kithure Kindiki (Jubilee) said as he moved the bill in the afternoon session.
Senate Minority Leader Moses Wetang’ula (Ford-Kenya) said the fate of the country lay in the Wako-led team and asked it to show the way forward.
“Please, I plead with you, the Legal Affairs Committee, live to the billing of the expectations of Kenyans and be free of any ethnic abuse,” said Cord co-principal. Nominated Senator Elizabeth Ongoro called on the committee to find “ways of coming up with a variety of solutions to the problem”.
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