NAIROBI - The opposition in Kenya has rejected a controversial new amendment to the electoral law and vowed fresh protests in the new year.
The legislation passed Thursday gives the electoral commission the ability to manually identify voters and release results if biometric voter verification technology fails, which the opposition says may compromise nationwide elections planned for August.
Tensions were high at parliament Thursday. Despite heavy security, there was commotion inside the chambers with both sides reporting lawmakers injured.
The opposition then walked out of the special session before the vote, leaving legislators from the ruling Jubilee coalition to pass the amendment to the electoral law that would allow hand counting of votes.
Debate on the proposed legislation had adjourned Tuesday amid fistfights on the parliament floor.
National Assembly majority leader Aden Duale blamed the opposition,saying "just because they believe in a culture of violence. You have seen their intention is to fight democratically established institutions."
Opposition members say the government wants to use the manual voter verification system to rig the August 2017 presidential election, a claim denied by the Jubilee administration.
As parliament voted Thursday, opposition members walked to the courts to challenge the legality of the special sitting.
Justice George Odunga ruled the judiciary cannot stop the work of the parliament, but left the door open to a challenge after the vote.
"Having considered the issue raised before me in this application at this stage, I do not find any compelling reasons why parliament is stopped from proceeding with the debate," he said. "Thereafter, depending on what it [parliament] decides, this court will be at liberty to scrutinize its process to say whether it did actually comply with the law and constitution."
The law now awaits the signature of President Uhuru Kenyatta. Opposition co-principal Kalonzo Musyoka is calling for protests.
"January the 4th will be the beginning of civil action so that at least we can face the next election in August with certainty," said Musyoka.
Opposition leader Raila Odinga warned the opposition will boycott the election if there is doubt it is free, fair and credible.
He said the opposition does not want violence, it wants the election process to be transparent.He says the people are using the power given by the constitution to call on Kenyans to peacefully demonstrate."
Protests in May and June turned violent as opposition supporters demanded the electoral commissioners resign, accusing them of favoring the ruling Jubilee coalition.
The commissioners have since stepped down and a joint committee was appointed to work on electoral reforms that were approved by parliament in September.
Jubliee lawmakers say the electoral commission then recommended the amendment passed Thursday.The opposition has requested proof of that request.