Lawmakers from major opposition parties in Kenya on Thursday staged a walkout from a parliamentary session to protest the passage of a contentious legal provision that allows use of manual voting in case the electronic system failed.
The opposition lawmakers accused their rivals in the ruling Jubilee Coalition of arbitrarily approving a clause that legitimizes use of manual voting and transmission of results in the event the digital tallying system encountered hitches.
The change, the opposition legislators said was paving way for rigging the elections which throw the east Africa nation into political crisis as witnessed in the 2007/08 post-election violence.
As lawmakers allied to the ruling coalition passed the controversial election law, their opposition counterparts marched in the streets of Nairobi and later proceeded to the High Court to challenge the move.
Thursday’s passage of proposed amendment to Election Act escalated political tensions in Kenya on the eve of Christmas holidays.
Earlier on Tuesday, a special parliamentary sitting ended in disarray as opposition lawmakers blocked attempts to discuss and approve the contentious electoral law.
As Kenya gears up for the August 2017 polls, both sides of the political divide have taken hard-line positions on how the process should be conducted.
While President Uhuru Kenyatta has maintained that next year’s elections will be free and fair, his opposition rivals have raised concern over unsettled legal and institutional hiccups that might undermine the process.
The Kenyan leader on Wednesday assured the public and international community that his government was committed to a transparent voting process.
“We want an election that will enable Kenyans to form the government they want. Nobody will prevent that from happening,” Kenyatta remarked during the inauguration of a new vehicle assembly plant on the outskirts of Nairobi
On his part, the leader of opposition alliance CORD, Raila Odinga warned against attempts to amend electoral laws without following due process.
The former prime minister stressed that any changes to the election laws should be conducted in a bipartisan manner to prevent a political crisis.
Odinga warned the use of manual voting and tallying system during the forthcoming national elections, saying it is vulnerable to manipulation.
“Digital voting has been successfully used in countries like Ghana, Nigeria, Gambia and Tanzania. Why should it fail only in Kenya?” Odinga said.
A bipartisan team of lawmakers in August agreed on a set of new rules and regulations to guide next year’s general elections.
The 14-member team was formed to discuss reforms in the electoral laws following countrywide protests by opposition supporters.
Among the issues agreed upon by the bipartisan committee was exit of current electoral bosses alongside legal and institutional reforms to ensure the voting process is free, fair and transparent.
The opposition lawmakers said investing in a functioning electronic voting system is key to deterring malpractices that would fuel a political crisis in Kenya.
Meanwhile, the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) on Thursday expressed concern over the divisive nature the 2017 electoral process has taken, saying it wants a bipartisan approach to resolve the outstanding issues.
In a statement, the polls body said the country is witnessing unwarranted grandstanding among political players on key issues that touch on the electoral process.
“This is not helpful and will not be helpful. It is eight months to the next general election. It is the duty of each actor, especially political leaders, to give Kenyans reasons to be hopeful with elections. This will require sobriety in debates, tolerance and respect for the rule of law,” the statement said.
The IEBC said it has attempted to reach out to the key players in the electoral process in the last few weeks to help resolve some of the issues of concern which must be addressed.
“However, there is no unanimity on the mechanism of addressing them. We have listened to neutral voices on this matter. We support the proposal that a team of non-partisan or bi-partisan actors be at the centre of constructive political dialogue whenever necessary,” it said. Enditem