Violence looms as Kenya Upper House pass highly contested amendments to Election law

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Kenya’s Upper House (Senate) passed the Election Law (Amendment) Bill late Thursday without changes to the highly contested amendments casting a shadow of violence as threatened by the opposition.

Efforts by minority opposition lawmakers to convince the majority ruling Jubilee into bipartisan debate were futile after the matter was subject to voting, in which 26 lawmakers voted in support of the Bill as 10 opposed it.

The voting thing debased a soberly articulated submission of minority leader and opposition coalition CORD (Coalition for Reforms and Democracy) co-principle Moses Wetang’ula that the bill was unconstitutional and could plunge the country into chaos.

“Bulldoze what you want but don’t drag our image into the mud. Let’s be bipartisan and salvage the image of this House,” Wetang’ula called out.

Wetang’ula and colleagues had hoped that Jubilee senators would shelve their partisan interests, seeking a negotiated settlement.

“There is a possibility that the Bill will not receive the majority votes and will have to go to a mediation committee, which, I believe, will give us a sensible way forward,” hoped Senator Hassan Omar, opposition aligned.

Senator Wilfred Lesan, who is ruling Jubilee-aligned was quoted by the Nation newspaper saying “the Senate is a sober House and I expect it to take a moderate view on the issue of election laws, perhaps even go for mediation,”

A joint committee of the Senate that had been tasked by Speaker Ekwee Ethuro to carry out public hearings on the Bill failed to agree on whether the electoral agency should use manual backup or not, leading to the vote.

It is still unclear why opposition suffered setbacks in convincing their counterparts into common ground.

However, negotiation is what birthed the law following months of protests calling for the disbandment of the election body, Independent Electoral and Boundaries commission, which the opposition accused of being partisan.

A Joint Select Committee on the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission, led by Senators James Orengo (Siaya) and Kiraitu Murungi (Meru), midwifed the law which was assented to by President Kenyatta in September.

Barely six months as the law requires, ruling jubilee recalled the Act and succeeded at amending clauses chief of which provides for manual voting and transfer of results as an alternative to electronic system. Jubilee says technology is likely to disenfranchise voters in case of failure.

CORD, uncomfortable with the manner in which the amendments were passed by the National Assembly called for nationwide protests saying the law is an undercover attempt for the incumbent to cheat election victory in the August 2017 polls.

“How do you have a thriving multi billion mobile money sector, file our tax returns online, have a fully-online gambling industry, and then you want to tell us that a 12-hour election once every five years cannot be done electronically?” asked Suna East constituency in Migori county MPJunet Mohamed.

During a presser in Nairobi last week, opposition coalition co-principal and former Kenya vice president Kalonzo Musyoka said they were suspending the protests which were intended for January 4, 2017 to allow the Senate to effectively conclude deliberations on the law to make it acceptable to all parties.

With the law now headed for assent by president Uhuru Kenyatta, it is not clear if CORD will recall the protest. Only time can tell.