12 September 2017

Kenya: Pending Poll Forces President to Break Tradition

Photo: Jeff Angote/The Nation
President Uhuru Kenyatta, flanked by National Assembly Speaker Justin Muturi, left, and Senate Speaker Ken Lusaka, leaves Parliament after addressing legislators on September 12, 2017.

President Uhuru Kenyatta on Tuesday departed from the traditional role of handing MPs an agenda in his address to the joint sitting, and instead urged them to uphold the supremacy of Constitution and its institutions.

The address, which formally inaugurated the first session of the 12th Parliament, was boycotted by members of the opposition, Nasa, who have questioned the decision by the President to summon the newly elected Parliament after his re-election on August 8 was nullified by the Supreme Court.

LEGISLATIVE AGENDA

Throughout the 30 minute speech, the President defended his fidelity to the Constitution and reiterated his obligation to sustain and protect the peace and security "of all our people without exception".

But in an unprecedented move, the head of state failed to outline his government's legislative agenda, leaving the two Houses in a awkward position.

Traditionally, presidents have used their address to a new Parliament to seek support for their legislative agenda besides enumerating their policy proposals and development agenda.

NO VACUUM

But with an election on the horizon, the President chose the middle path, focusing his speech on sovereignty and constitutionalism.

Nasa has described President Kenyatta as enjoying temporary incumbency after the Supreme Court ruling.

But the President defended the decision to summon Parliament, saying there is no void and assuring the public that every arm of the government is in place and operational.

"No matter the political noises that are loudest during elections, I want to assure every Kenyan, and the world, there is no void and there is no lacuna; Kenya is progressing along the path drawn for it by the Constitution," he said.

PEACE

He said his government will not tolerate anyone intent on disrupting the hard-won peace and stability, noting that under no circumstances must Kenyans ever allow a free, competitive process to become a threat to the peace and security of the nation.

The President reminded the MPs the first two articles of the Constitution declare that the sovereignty of the people is exercised through their elected representatives, and that Parliament represents the diversity of the nation.

"These words represent the hard sacrifices and hopes of generations of Kenyans who fought to earn the right to govern themselves and to freely choose their representatives," he said.

INTEGRITY

He reminded the 12th Parliament that it had been sworn into office at an important moment that requires the MPs to uphold the supremacy of the Constitution and its institutions, but warned them that they may not always have their way.

"As you well know, we still have to undertake a fresh presidential election following the verdict of the Supreme Court.

"Even though I strongly disagreed with that decision, I accepted it because of my respect for our Constitution," he said.

He insisted that he had previously demonstrated this fidelity to the best interests of the Kenyan people, as happened when he conceded the loss of the 2002 General Election and when he heeded the summons from the International Criminal Court even though he knew he was answering trumped-up charges.

PROGRESS

Mr Kenyatta said the country had spent more than two decades crafting a new constitutional order that maps our state organs and processes, and thus provides certainty and predictability to its national life.

In our current circumstance, the president said, the August 8 elections; the swearing-in of governors, Members of both Parliament and County Assemblies; the verdict of the Supreme Court; the call for repeat election on October 17; his address to parliament and the set term of a president until a new one is sworn in, are all part of Kenya's laid-down constitutional processes.

The President said the October 17 presidential election will not be a choice between two individuals but the transfer of the people's sovereign will to an office that is the symbol of national unity and one that protects national security, both key to delivering development and prosperity.

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