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Kenya Debates Electoral Reform Ahead of 2012 Poll

  • Michael Onyiego

Kenya's parliament has begun debate on a critical law that will govern the country's next presidential elections in 2012.

Kenya’s parliament is in the midst of reading a reform bill that could lay the final groundwork for violence-free elections next year. The body is currently reviewing the Independent Elections and Boundaries Commission Bill, seen as one of the pillars of reform envisioned under Kenya’s new constitution.

The IEBC bill would create a new elections body to replace the country’s much maligned and now-defunct electoral commission, held by many as a central cause of the 2007-2008 post-election chaos.

The bill was introduced during Tuesday’s session of parliament by Justice Minister Mutula Kilonzo of Kenya’s Party of National Unity. In what was perhaps an indication of bipartisan support of the crucial reforms, Kilonzo’s motion was immediately backed by James Orengo of the rival Orange Democratic Movement.

The debate frequently turned to the violence that engulfed Kenya in the wake of the disputed 2007 presidential elections between President Mwai Kibaki and current Prime Minister Raila Odinga. Both parties alleged irregularities in the vote, sparking ethnic clashes that lasted two months and left over 1,300 dead.

While there appears to be wide support for the proposed bill, many MPs argued for strengthening provisions in certain sections. Some wanted more stringent qualifications for electoral chairmen. MP and presidential hopeful Martha Karua demanded strict and direct accountability for those found violating the laws.

"The rules and the code should not only have very severe criminal consequences, they should also be barred from holding any public office for a decade," Karua said.

There is also disagreement over the bill's provision on the appointment of electoral commissioners. The IEBC bill outlines a committee tasked with selecting the heads of the commission. But some MPs including John Mbadi and Isaac Ruto argued the leaders should be chosen by the parties.

The bill would establish a commission of nine members serving six-year terms to oversee elections in Kenya. The MPs also highlighted the need to enact reforms in Kenya’s judiciary to ensure the courts can be a credible moderator of electoral disputes.

The IEBC bill draws heavily from recommendations issued by the Independent Review Commission, also known as the Kriegler Commission. The report found Kenya to lack any substantial electoral law to govern polls. The report also took issue with the lack of a legal framework for the appointment of electoral commissioners, which has allowed past presidents to personally appoint the commissioners.