EU URGES KENYA TO SHELVE ELECTORAL LAW CHANGES AHEAD OF POLLS

NAIROBI, The European Union (EU) election observers called on Kenya to shelve changes to the electoral law ahead of the Oct. 26 polls, urging political leaders to demonstrate commitment to democratic electoral competition and institutions.

The EU Election Observation Mission (EU EOM) also called on the political contenders to come together constructively and overcome the challenges for the upcoming presidential election.

“The intensifying accusations between political rivals and against the institutional pillars of the democratic process, in particular the judiciary and the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC), have led to escalating tensions and risk derailing the election,” the observers said in a statement issued in Nairobi.

The EU mission which has been monitoring elections preparations before the Aug. 8 general elections said political leaders have a specific responsibility to respect the law and ensure that people’s rights are honored.

The observers also said demands for far-reaching changes to the election administration need to be matched with the constitutional requirements for the re-run.

“Changes to the electoral law would also hinder the on-going work of the IEBC in preparing elections in an already limited time frame,” said the EU observers.

According to the EU EOM, proceeding to pass the Election Laws (Amendment) Bill, 2017 and the Election Offences (Amendment) Bill, 2017 before the re-run would be a highly problematic process, with changes being extremely controversial.

“If passed, the changes would likely be subject to legal challenge, including on constitutional grounds, resulting in further uncertainty in the electoral process,” the mission cautioned.

The proposed changes to the electoral laws by the ruling party Jubilee have created division among Kenyans ahead of repeat polls on Oct. 26.

While some, in particular president Uhuru Kenyatta’s supporters, believe the changes are good and are what the country needs before the polls, those supporting Opposition National Super Alliance (NASA) leader Raila Odinga oppose the amendments noting they are a rigging plot.

The changes, which Odinga including civil society and some religious leaders have opposed, widen political divisions in the East African nation.

One of the radical changes Jubilee proposes is that if only one candidate remains in a fresh presidential election, he will be declared president-elect without polls being held.

The bill, currently in Parliament, further proposes a custodial sentence of up to 15 years for any electoral officials who knowingly refuses to sign, submits incomplete forms or willfully alters or falsifies documents relating to elections.

It also proposes to strip the powers of announcing the winner of a presidential poll from the chairman of the electoral commission to any other commissioner.

The observers said excessive demands by political parties, which cannot be met by the IEBC, place an extraordinary burden on the institution and escalate tension and antagonism in the election.

The EU EOM suggested that contenders focus as a matter of urgency on practical and meaningful integrity measures that can be realistically undertaken to strengthen operations and systems.

The observers said decisive improvements in the electoral process are still achievable if Kenyans come together in a constructive manner.

The observers urged the electoral body to provide regular public information on the measures it is undertaking in view of the Supreme Court ruling and demonstrate stronger transparency.

The mission said its analysis of the two bills shows that there are some potentially positive proposals while some proposals weaken safeguards without qualification.

“None of the proposed changes are critical for Kenya to comply with international commitments or appear to be pre-requisites for improvements to the fresh election entailed in the Supreme Court’s ruling,” the observers said.

“The EU EOM therefore suggests that, for the sake of consistency with recognized good practice and for the smooth running of the current electoral process, the proposed legal reforms are tabled after the current election.”

This, the observers said, will enable a more comprehensive approach to amendments, and more time for debate, consultation and legislative development.

Source: NAM NEWS NETWORK