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Legal experts call for free, fair election process in prisons

Legal experts want the electoral body to devise ways of ensuring that the planned registration of voters in prisons does not create an avenue for manipulation of votes cast in the next general elections.

Last week, the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) announced that it plans to roll out the registration of voters in prisons from February 20 to 27, 2017, following a court ruling that the prisoners have a right to participate in the electoral process.

According to lawyer Wanyiro Kihoro, the prisons being restricted areas, Kenyans will want to be assured that the election process in those facilities will be free and fair.

He said the list of all eligible voters who are in the prisons should be published for scrutiny adding that the votes cast should be verifiable.

FREEDOM TO VOTE

“The prisons are restricted areas but the IEBC should devise a way of ensuring the election process in such correction facilities are transparent. The commission should be able to nullify the exercise in a prison where voting regulations are not followed,” lawyer Kihoro.

Lawyer Okweh Achiando said that even those in remand are ‘prisoners’ as they too, have their freedom curtailed, and should be included in the exercise to be conducted by IEBC.

He said leaving them out will amount to discrimination, which is against article 27 of the constitution on Equality and freedom from discrimination.

According to IEBC chairman Wafula Chebukati, the registration of prisoners is intended to enhance their right to participate in the electoral process as well as comply with the Court decision.

DEVELOP REGULATIONS

He said the Commission has resolved to gazette prisons as registration centres based on the data to be received from the State Department for Correctional Services.

“The Commission acknowledges that there would be need to develop regulations to govern the participation of prisoners in elections,” Mr Chebukati in a press statement dated last Friday.

In a judgment delivered on January 21, 2013, High Court Judge David Majanja directed the IEBC to take necessary measures including necessary administrative arrangements even after the March 2013 General Elections to ensure registration of prisoners like other citizens as mandated of it under Article 88(4)(a) and the facilitation of the realisation of the right to vote of all eligible inmates.

“I direct that the IEBC shall put in place and implement measures to ensure, and facilitate the right of prisoners to register to vote and vote in future elections and referenda,” Justice Majanja in his judgment.

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