What proposed changes to election laws mean

CORD MPs Mishi Mboko, Aisha Mwajuma and Gladys Wanga demonstrate along Nairobi Streets as they head to Milimani Law Courts after they disagree in Parliament over Controversial Election Amendments laws on Thursday 22/12/16.PHOTO:BONIFACE OKENDO

Jubilee MPs on Thursday approved changes to the Elections Laws (Amendment) Act 2016, setting the stage for another political showdown eight months to the General Election.

The proposed amendments allow the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) to come up with a manual system of identifying voters and transmitting results, complementary to the electronic tallying system.

“Notwithstanding the provisions of Section 44, the commission shall put in place a complementary mechanism for identification and transmission of results that is simple, accurate, verifiable, secure, accountable and transparent to ensure it complies with the provisions of Article 38 of the Constitution,” reads the amendments.

Although several other amendments were introduced, it is this particular one that has led to the push and pull between Jubilee and CORD MPs. CORD has warned that it will rally its supporters to take to the streets from January 4 next year to protest the changes.

On Thursday, CORD legislators stormed out of Parliament, as their Jubilee colleagues carried the day. The matter now heads to the Senate, which will sit on December 28 to lay down mechanisms for the way forward. The Senate could pass or reject the Bill in totality.

“These amendments are beside the point. If the law was to be given to any other country, say Uganda or Tanzania, minus our political context then the amendments will sound valid. In plain ink and paper, the amendments are in order,” Constitutional lawyer and former Committee of Experts member Bobby Mkangi says.

“However, if you contextualise the matter, then the spirit of the amendments remains lost in the mischief and distrust among political players,” Mkangi adds.

Mkangi says the big issue at hand is not the changes but the environment in which they were made. “The law itself was as a result of political consensus whose main purpose was to progressively repair our electioneering process as we move towards the General Election,” he says.

Lawmakers say the changes do not mean the country will resort to manual voting and tallying systems. “It only suggests putting in place of a complimentary mechanism should the electronic system fail,” Mkangi says.

Some countries which use electronic voting machines have previously resorted to manual systems when technology fails.

For instance, in the recently concluded polls in Ghana in which the incumbent John Dramani Makhama was defeated by Opposition’s Nana Akufo- Addo, the Ghanaian electoral commission used both manual and electronic systems in verification of voters. This means if a person got disqualified by means of the verification machine, the voter would have the alternate option of manual verification.

“It is all about perceptions. We are currently in a situation that doesn’t allow reason to prevail because both sides do not trust each other because of our checkered history with elections. The only way out of this impasse is if the IEBC, the ruling coalition as well as the Opposition all agree to set their differences aside and work together,” Mkangi says.

Other amendments passed include the suspension of the Election Campaign Finance Act, which would compel candidates and political parties to submit their finance details to the electoral commission within a set deadline.

Also, current and aspiring MPs will not be required to hold a university degree to vie for political office in 2017 polls.

The House also introduced amendments that seek to create equity in party lists, giving minorities a chance to be in Parliament.

“In as much as this law may be good for the country’s electoral process, it fails in one key area. There was no meaningful, qualitative public participation in the proposed amendment. Amendments to the law can only be validated by public participation,” constitutional lawyer Peter Wanyama says.