Kenya General Election Series: What is the difference between a Senator and MP?

While engaged in numerous discussions centered on the Kenyan elections slated for this year, I have often encountered such a question. In my humble opinion, the question as it is phrased is wrong. This entry explains the reason as well as the functions of a senator and ‘MP’.

First, a senator IS an MP. The term MP is an abbreviation for Member of Parliament. Parliament under the Constitution of Kenya 2010 has two houses (bicameral for all my political and legal savvy readers). There is the House of Senate (or Upper house) and the National Assembly House (or Lower house). Each house has its specific mandate under the constitution.

The Kenyan Senate has limited roles and I think that is why it fits the description of an upper house. Under article 96, its main duties are representing and protecting the interest of counties. Senators consider laws that touch on counties using the procedures stipulated in articles 109 through to 113. They also determine the allocation of national revenue among counties.

In addition to the foregoing, Senate has oversight powers as well. They exercise this power over national revenue allocated to County governments. Also, they consider and determine any resolution to remove the President or his deputy as stipulated in article 145.

Contrary to popular belief, the senate has no direct veto power on the legislative process other than impeachment of the President or his deputy (see Art 145). Under article 112, it cannot veto an ordinary bill without a breaking down of mediation under article 113. An ordinary bill means a bill that does not relate to election of members of a county assembly/executive or annual County Allocation or Revenue Bill which are otherwise referred to as Special Bills [see Art.110 (2) (a)] .

Article 113 provides that Speakers of both houses shall constitute a mediation committee that will consider the differences between the two houses over a bill rejected or amended by either house. Only after the committee fails to agree on a common ground is the bill lost. Members of this committee must reflect equal representation of both houses.

The National Assembly house however has direct veto power over the decisions of the Senate. Article 110 (2) requires two-thirds of members of the house to perform this task. It is limited to special bills (see the paragraph immediately preceding this one). If it passes, the bill is lost. This provision makes one wonder which of the two houses has more powers. I reasonably believe it is the lower house; the National Assembly.

Article 95 enumerates the role of the National Assembly. Among these is to make laws concerning national issues. It considers matters exclusive of the Senate if these matters do not touch on the county governments and removal of the President or his deputy (see article 109 (3)).  It approves Declarations of War and extensions to State of Emergency and have exclusive legislative jurisdiction over money bills. In my view, these constitutional powers support the notion that it is the powerful one of the two.

Finally I end this article by making remarks on this whole Upper/Lower house labels. Some preliminary research suggests that the Lower house has more legislative jurisdiction than the Upper house. In other words, legislative powers of an Upper house in a bicameral system are more limited than those of the Lower house. However this is not a conclusive observation and readers are welcome to comment on its veracity.

Happy New to you all.

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