Kenya High Court suspends move to dissolve parliament over lack of women

NITA BHALLA

KENYA’S High Court has suspended any move to dissolve parliament after the country’s top judge said it was necessary as neither of the legislative houses had enough women lawmakers.

Chief Justice David Maraga on Monday advised President Uhuru Kenyatta to dissolve parliament, saying lawmakers had failed to meet a 2010 constitutional provision which allows for one-third of seats to be occupied by women.

The chief justice’s move upset many male parliamentarians, including the speaker of the house, who said it was unlawful, ill-advised and premature and would plunge the East African nation into a constitutional crisis.

Under Kenyan law, once parliament is dissolved, elections must take place within 90 days.

In response to a petition challenging Maraga’s advisory, the High Court suspended any move to dissolve parliament pending a full hearing on the case.

“I have carefully considered the petition and find that it raises substantial questions of law,” wrote High Court Justice Weldon Korir in his judgment, ordering a hearing.

Women hold 22% of seats in the country’s lower house of parliament, and 31% in the upper house. Kenya’s 2010 constitution states no more than two-thirds of any elected or appointed body can be of the same gender.

Court rulings in Kenya have directed parliament to pass legislation to enforce the rule or risk being dissolved, but previous attempts have failed with female MPs accusing male lawmakers of deliberately blocking efforts.

In the advisory to Kenyatta, Maraga said the failure to enact the legislation was clear testimony of lawmakers’ “lackadaisical attitude and conduct” in relation to the two-thirds gender rule.

A panel of appointed judges will hear the petition on October 7. – Thomson Reuters Foundation.