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Divisions Deepen Over Proposed Changes to Kenya's Electoral Law


An opposition protester holds a placard denouncing electoral commission officials, at a demonstration in downtown Nairobi, Kenya, Sept. 26, 2017.

After two days of talks among members of Kenya's electoral commission, the ruling party and the opposition fell apart apart amid disagreements over how to conduct fresh presidential elections set for next month. There are fears Kenya is headed for a political and constitutional crisis.

The dispute centers in part on two proposed amendments to the electoral law ahead of the October 26 ballot. The ruling Jubilee Party wants the law changed so officials rely more on election results that are submitted via paper ballot, as opposed to those transmitted electronically. The second centers on mandating that the Kenyan Supreme Court order a recount if results are in dispute. The Kenyan Supreme Court struck down President Uhuru Kenyatta's August 8 electoral win, citing irregularities in the way the results were transmitted. The court said earlier this month that electronically transmitted results were neither transparent nor verifiable, as required by law.

The opposition says the ruling party's attempt to push the proposed changes through in the National Assembly should not be done during an election season. They argue that such an effort would 'tie the hands' of the electoral commissioner. In walking out of the discussions Thursday, the opposition said the talks did not address their issues nor those raised by the court.

Senator James Orengo, a lawyer and member of the opposition, expressed disillusionment.

“We came here in good spirit, and thinking that this consultative process was a good idea. And we were ready; we prepared our papers; we had a lot of groundwork that we have done; we have used the courts also to make sure that the law is clear...but it looks like this is an exercise in futility, and our participation in these deliberations makes no further sense,” Orengo said.

The opposition also is demanding the resignation of members of the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission, or IEBC, who were accused of bungling the August vote. Additionally, the opposition wants the government to cancel a contract with a Dubai-based firm Al Ghurair Printing and Publishing that printed the paper ballots used in the earlier election. The opposition alleges the company printing 1.2 million extra ballot papers, was part of a plan to rig the election. There was no response from the company.

Kenyan riot police fire tear gas at opposition protesters during a rally near electoral commission offices in downtown Nairobi, Kenya, Sept. 26, 2017.
Kenyan riot police fire tear gas at opposition protesters during a rally near electoral commission offices in downtown Nairobi, Kenya, Sept. 26, 2017.

The IEBC says it is too late to make such changes. Its chairman, Wafula Chebukati, also says the commission hopes the proposed laws will not affect the agency's operations.

“We don’t need any more laws to give Kenyans on the 26th of October. But if parliament passes the laws, I’ve also said, I hope those laws will not change the framework we have put in place because if they do so, then they’ll put us in a very precarious situation,” Chebukati said.

Despite the dispute, Senator and Deputy Speaker Kithure Kindiki says parliament will go ahead with its plan to amend the laws. He is calling on the opposition to be part of the process.

“If parliamentarians want to amend even the existing law, it’s up to them; but what we are not going to allow is the convolution of agenda, where an agenda which is taking place in the legislature is used to forestall a consultative meeting which has been called by an election manager, and which meeting doesn’t have the mandate, anyway, to change anything. Change can only happen in the legislature where that bill is being discussed,” Kindiki said.

Opposition leader Raila Odinga, who ran against Kenyatta in the August 8 poll, has called on his supporters to take to the streets starting Monday for a rally over the electoral process.

In 2016, a similar protest planned by the opposition turned deadly. After weeks of demonstrations, the electoral commissioners resigned, paving the way for new officers.

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