Senate speaker Ekwe Ethuro on Wednesday ordered police officers deployed to parliament to withdraw from the precincts ahead of the debate on amendments to election law.
This was after senators, both from Cord and Jubilee, complained over the presence of police around parliament buildings, saying it was in breach of parliamentary privileges.
Making the ruling, the speaker said: “The police were not brought to create fear in the way we carry out duties in the parliament,”
“I am going to direct the police and tell them we do not need them…we don’t need them, they are not welcomed here,” Ethuro said.
Ethuro said he would expect the police to facilitate access to the building rather than deny members rights to freely get into the August House.
“There was no cause for me to call for police action because the members of this house for the last four years have conducted themselves in a good matter,” he said.
The speaker directed the chairman of National security to investigate under what circumstances police came to parliament.
“This is not a police state. We are a democratic country,” the speaker said.
The legislators were meeting to consider controversial changes made to the electoral laws as adopted by the National Assembly on December 21.
Before the ruling, Khalwale questioned Ethuro on why the police were stationed outside parliament buildings.
“I have been denied access to this house…police dogs have barked at me…we have anti-riot police and all roads have been barricaded,” Khalwale said.
“Has Parliament been held captive by the executive? Why have police barricaded roads near Parliament. We want to know why?” he asked.
His Siaya counterpart James Orengo asked if the closure of roads was from the orders of the speaker.
“When parliament is meeting, nothing should appear as if they is any interference…when I had an argument with the police, they told me there is no coming in with cars,” he said.
Nominated senator Janet Ongera said: “We were not allowed to come with our cars…we want a clarification whether the executive has taken over,”
George Khaniri of Vihiga said he travelled overnight only to be denied access to the building.
“I stand with a heavy heart. I left my house at 5pm and travelled through the night only to get here and be blocked. These is ridiculous and unacceptable,” he said.
“I have never seen anything like this before… this is an important house and they must be given full access to parliament.”
Bungoma senator Moses Wetangula said they want to debate without fear and they should be protected from the officers.
“We come here and it looks like we are a state of conflict…this is not the way we conduct business we want to speak without fear,” he said.
Meru senator Kiraitu Murungi said the house is a dignified house that they do not need restrictions.
“I share the concerns of members but under the police act it is the duty of police to protect Kenyans and their property.. it is their duty to ensure senators access parliament,” he said.
“…they also have a duty to clear the roads for us.”
Murungi further said he had an issue regarding the summoning of the special sitting session.
“Next time you call for a special sitting Mr Speaker, the business should be urgent and exceptional,” Murungi added.
But Elgeyo Marakwet Kipchumba Murkomen said the senators should not complain about the police but themselves.
“We must condemn ourselves and our actions first before we condemn the police,” he said, before the assigned police officers left their posts.
The changes, which significantly alter the Elections Laws (Amendments) Act 2016, have been opposed by Cord leaders and members of the opposition.
Opposition leaders Raila Odinga, Musalia Mudavadi, Kalonzo Musyoka and Moses Wetang’ula have opposed the changes.
Jubilee has said the manual voting system should be in place just in case technology fails.
The contentious election law arose from a negotiated agreement reached between Cord and Jubilee that ended the anti-IEBC protests.
A Joint Select Committee on the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission, led by Senators James Orengo (Siaya) and Kiraitu Murungi (Meru), midwifed the law.
If the Senate endorses the changes and President Uhuru Kenyatta assents the bill into law, the IEBC will have powers to use a manual voting system.
Raila said the changes must be rejected as it would create room for dead voters “participating” in the 2017 general election.
The Kriegler Commission of Inquiry largely blamed the 2008 post-election violence on the use of a manual voting system and recommended major electoral reforms, among them the use of technology, in subsequent elections.
The determination by the Jubilee leadership to have the law in place saw Cord MPs walk out of the House in protest on Thursday, citing fears of plans to rig 2017 poll.
Cord has threatened mass action on January 4, 2017, if the President, whom they have accused of being behind the plot, signs the controversial changes into law.
The Senate however has room to either accept or reject changes passed by the National Assembly.