The election, earlier slated for Monday, was pushed to Tuesday.
Martin Ngoga, a former prosecutor-general in Rwanda, was on Tuesday elected Speaker of the East African Legislative Assembly (EALA), amid sharp divisions among member states.
Mr Ngoga, who becomes the first Rwandan to serve in the position since the country joined the East African Community, garnered 33 votes in the second round of the vote to beat Burundi’s Leontine Nzeyimana, who got only three votes. The disputed vote was marred by boycotts by Burundian and Tanzanian legislators.
Mr Ngoga won the first round of the election which also featured Tanzania’s Alhaj Adam Kimbisa, with 35 of the 36 votes cast after all the 18 MPs from Tanzania and Burundi boycotted the vote. He, however, failed to meet the mandatory two-thirds vote required for one to be declared winner.
According to EALA rules, a run-off vote is conducted between the two leading candidates in the first round, if the leading candidate cannot garner two thirds of votes from the 54 legislators.
The election, earlier slated for Monday, was pushed to Tuesday following divisions among legislators on which member states should field candidates.
The candidature of Mr Kimbisa (of Tanzania) was strongly opposed by Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda, who argued that the position should be held on a rotational basis.
Tanzania’s Abdulrahman Kinana served as EALA’s first speaker between 2001 and 2007, and Kenya’s Abdirahin Haithar Abdi succeeded him and served until 2012.
Uganda’s Margaret Nnatogo Zziwa was then elected but was impeached in 2014 after serving only two years, and was replaced by another Ugandan, Daniel Kidega.
On Monday, Ugandan legislator Fred Mbidde Mukasa tabled a motion in the House to object the candidature of Mr Kimbisa, saying it was against the EAC Treaty. According to Mukasa, only South Sudan, Rwanda and Burundi were eligible to field candidates as per the EALA Rules of Procedures that require that the speaker is elected on a rotational basis.
Mr Ngoga, who takes over from Kidega, is now facing an uphill task of uniting a divided house amid growing differences between member states in the regional bloc.
In March, five EALA MPs from Burundi skipped the assembly’s sitting in Kigali citing security concerns.
Diplomatic relations between Rwanda and Burundi have been deteriorated since 2015, when Bujumbura accused Kigali of aiding the failed May 2015 coup attempt, an allegation Rwanda denies.
In 2016, Burundi banned exports to Rwanda, mainly foodstuff, and restricted movement at its borders with Rwanda, a move experts said violated the EAC Common Market Protocol.
EALA has 54 legislators; nine from each of the six member states; Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi and the recently admitted South Sudan.
In his acceptance speech, Mr Ngoga promised to rise above partisan interests and divisions, to push the regional integration agenda forward and to save the bloc from further divisions.
“I am ready to work with all of you now that we are past this event,” he said alluding to the divisions affecting the business of the house. He also pointed that the delay to compose the House committees had considerable effect on the region. He said that the 4th EALA will focus on providing the legal frameworks needed to steer key regional integration projects among member states.
Mr Ngoga becomes the fifth speaker and his tenure is expected to end in 2022. However, boycotting members have threatened to challenge his election at the East African Court of Justice, a move likely to entrench seeds of discord in regional integration.
Reported by Victor Kiprop, Havyarimana Moses and Edmund Kagire.