Parliamentary committees handling bills to amend election laws on Tuesday played down Western powers’ opposition to the proposed changes on grounds that they are ill-timed.
Western envoys on Monday advised the government against changing the laws, saying the timing for such reforms was wrong, with the repeat presidential election only three weeks away and the political environment charged.
However, Baringo North MP William Cheptumo, who co-chairs meetings on the issue with Isiolo Senator Fatuma Dullo, refused to be dragged into the position adopted by the Western powers, saying the purpose of the team is to give as many Kenyans as possible an opportunity to express their views on the proposed changes.
“What the Western powers are saying is their own opinion and we can’t respond to it.
“We are here as a parliamentary committee not to benefit Nasa or the Jubilee Party. The absence of Nasa does not make this process illegal,” Mr Cheptumo said.
Mr Cheptumo was speaking at County Hall after the end of the first day of public hearings on the proposed changes.
The day was marked by different views from individuals and representatives of various institutions.
The institutions included the NGOs Council, the Centre for African Progress, the Charlsvin Law Consulting and the Organisation for National Empowerment (One).
Through its chairman, Mr Stephen Cheboi, the NGOs Council supported the proposed changes to the law, saying the move would go a long way in addressing the challenges witnessed in the August 8 presidential election, prompting the Supreme Court to annul the poll.
“There is no better time to pass any piece of law. The timing in this particular case should not cause tension in the country,” Mr Cheboi, who was the first to appear before the committee, said.
A bill that was tabled in the House last week principally seeks to address the shortcomings that led to the invalidation of the August presidential poll.
It prescribes harsh penalties of up to 15 years in jail for election officers who refuse to sign forms, submit incomplete documents or wilfully alter or falsify papers relating to elections.
The draft law also waters down the requirement for electronic transmission of results.
Instead, it considers manual transmission of results the legally binding mode.
The amendments strip the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) chairman of the powers of declaring the presidential results.
They place at three the number of commissioners required to hold a full IEBC plenary meeting.
Mr Cheboi proposed an amendment to the bill, suggesting the quorum be raised to four.
He said a quorum of three commissioners could precipitate a crisis in the commission.
Mr Benji Ndolo, representing One, questioned the timing of the amendments and urged Parliament to avoid what he described as “short-term transactional politics” that could spell doom for the country’s nascent democracy.
Mr Ngiri Wangoi of Charlsvin Law Consulting opposed the proposal to dilute the powers of the IEBC chairman, saying it is unconstitutional.
He said capping the quorum at three was bound to create a situation where the minority would dictate terms at the commission.
At the same time, Orange Democratic Movement MPs asked the public not to present their views to the parliamentary committees on electoral laws, saying the teams were illegally constituted as they lack members from the Opposition.
The Opposition failed to submit a list of its members to the House Business Committee that is responsible for drawing the business of Parliament.
It also failed to submit a list of its members to the committees on electoral laws.
Led by Ugunja MP and ODM secretary for political affairs, Mr Opiyo Wandayi, the lawmakers urged the public not to participate in an illegality being perpetuated by Jubilee.
Elsewhere, Jubilee MPs defended the proposed amendments of election laws.
They said the changes were necessary given the “extraordinary” situation the country has found itself in after the nullification of the presidential poll.
The MPs said the amendments were being pursued legally and constitutionally and would, therefore, not polarise the country.
In a statement read by Kiharu MP Ndindi Nyoro at a news conference at Parliament, the lawmakers said:
“We have heard the concerns expressed by our diplomatic partners on the timelines of these changes or even that they will polarise the country.
“We would like to remind the diplomats that the Opposition undertook a determined campaign to change the electoral law through the courts in the months leading to the August poll.”
Reported by Ibrahim Oruko, David Mwere and Samwel Owino