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Kenyan Lawmakers Use Constitutional 'Loophole' to Extend Their Terms

  • Peter Clottey

Kenya's President Mwai Kibaki

Kenya's President Mwai Kibaki

The executive director of Kenyans for Democracy and Justice, a political pressure group, told VOA lawmakers are exploiting the new constitution’s ambiguous language on term limits, as they seek to extend their stay in office.

Okia Omtata said the outrage being expressed by Kenyans over what he describes as constitutional manipulation is in his words “hugely misplaced.”

“Most of them have got loans and mortgages to pay. They earn over a million plus shillings a month [$12,444]. So, any sensible person will say why would I surrender the million shillings plus when there is a loophole I can exploit to make sure I earn that money?” Omtata asked.

“Secondly, most of them are very unpopular and they are likely to be voted [out]. Last time, we had a hemorrhage whereby the last parliament [was] voted out by about 80 percent. So, most of these people know that they are going to be voted out so why should they risk [that]? They will rather grab whatever they can grab with the skin of their teeth and hang on to it,” said Omtata.

Kenya's parliament in session (file photo)

Kenya's parliament in session (file photo)

Supported by Mutula Kilonzo, the Justice and Constitutional Affairs minister, legislators are pushing for their terms to be extended beyond the August 2012 date mandated in the new constitution.

Local media reported that the move is drawing growing criticism among some lawyers, civil society groups, religious leaders as well as politicians saying the lawmakers are undermining the new measure.

The legislators contend that the current parliament is protected from the proposed legislative calendar and that it should be allowed to serve out its full term to December 2012, five years after it was elected.

But, Omtata said Kenyans failed to adhere to the warnings his organization pointed out about the constitutional language well ahead of the referendum that approved the document.

“It may look mischievous, it may look Machiavellian, but it is constitutional because the constitution says they should serve the remainder of their term. I wouldn’t take any notice of the Kenyans who are angry because I think they are being angry, yet they were forewarned. Some of us even went to court to challenge this particular ambiguity,” said Omtata.

“Kenyans can be angry, but what is the point in spitting in the storm? It will simply mess up your face. So, the constitution and the law are behind them [lawmakers].”

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