Kenya: Public Divided on Electoral Laws as Hearings Begin

United Nations Office at Nairobi Director General Sahle-Work Zewde.
3 October 2017

Nairobi — The first public hearing on the proposed electoral changes sparked mixed reactions with some of the contributors agreeing while others strongly opposed the proposed changes which since introduction to both Houses of Parliament, have fuelled acrimony between the two main political coalitions in the country.

The suggestions in the proposed electoral laws sponsored by Jubilee highly informed Tuesday's hearing with the submission of the views from the speakers of the day painting a clear picture of concurring and dissenting opinions regarding the Bills.

Appearing first before the William Cheptumo led-committee, Chairman of the National Council of NGOs Stephen Cheboi welcomed the proposals and acknowledged that the changes were in line with the existing inevitable election needs but importantly urged the committee to reconsider the section envisaged in the proposed changes touching on the quorum of the Commission.

"The committee needs to consider the issue of a quorum and not the three proposed in the Bill, the quorum should at least be moved to four members," said Cheboi.

In the suggested Bill, it reduces the quorum of the IEBC from five to half of the existing members but not less than three. It goes on further to state that if there is no unanimity on a decision, matters would be decided by a majority of the commissioners present and voting.

On the issue of the vice chairman automatically becoming the head of IEBC in absence of the chairman as proposed in the Bill, Abel Oyieyo Head of Operations for Centre for African Progress agreed that the changes were necessary and timely so as to avert any unanticipated situation that could delay the announcing of presidential results.

"If we do not have a chairperson and if no one is given the powers to take over the position of the chairperson it simply means we cannot have a president declared lawfully by the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission, it is very important to have that provision on the law," said Oyieyo.

In addition, Oyieyo supported the section of the Bill that dropped the requirement that the chairperson be a person who is qualified to hold the office of judge of the Supreme Court under the Constitution, a provision that removed the requirement that the chairman should be a lawyer.

"We all understand you do not need to be a lawyer to be bright. These changes are sensible idea for the purpose of expanding the poll of individuals who can also serve as the Chairperson of the electoral commission," said Oyieyo.

Former Kibwezi Member of Parliament Kalembe Ndile while supporting the changes stirred the session when he championed for more punitive measures against Presiding Officers whom would have been found to have violated their duties.

"In my own opinion the committee should revise the election offenses bill and add severe punishment for electoral offenders found to have breached their duties. A Presiding Officer can easily be bribed Sh20 million and willingly accept to be jailed for five years, these proposed changes should tighten all those loopholes," said Ndile.

The Election Offences proposed changes say that any Presiding Officer and Returning Officer who knowingly fails to sign or fill completely result forms, submit incomplete forms or change or falsify them will serve five years in jail without the option of a fine.

A lobbyist and political commentator Benji Ndolo while presenting his concerns before the committee questioned the timing of the Bills and their legitimacy and appealed to the committee only comprised of Jubilee legislators to ignore the amendments in totality.

"At best in such an environment at such a time few days to the next presidential elections, the changes are mischievous and it does not look at all," said Ndolo.

Even as the hearings kicked off, a section of diplomats also questioned the timing of the Bills with just 23 days to the fresh presidential election.

On Monday the ambassadors led by Robert Godec of the United States opposed the changes to the electoral laws, saying they were ill-timed.

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