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XINHUA NEWS SERVICE REPORTS FROM THE AFRICAN CONTINENT

 

Proposed law changes widen rifts ahead of Kenya repeat Polls

NAIROBI (Xinhua) -- Kenyans are split on the proposed changes to the electoral laws by the ruling party Jubilee ahead of repeat polls scheduled on Oct. 26.

While some, in particular president Uhuru Kenyatta’s supporters, endorse the changes, those supporting opposition National Super Alliance (NASA) leader Raila Odinga believe the amendments are nothing but a rigging plot.

The changes, which Odinga has opposed, widen political divisions in the East African nation among the electorate and their leaders.

One radical change 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.

Odinga has termed the changes a plan by the Kenyatta to rig the forthcoming polls and called out on his supporters to resist through protests starting next Monday.

"You cannot change the rules of the game when the match is underway.

"Why go to the polls when the laws have been tailored to favour one candidate?" Victor Ondiek, Odinga’s supporter posed Friday.

The welder, running a workshop in Nairobi, noted that the opposition should do everything within its powers to oppose the laws.

"Even if it is through street protests or in the courts, these laws must be stopped.

"They have been designed to install dictatorship in the country, the reason why they are being fast-tracked in Parliament," he noted.

Building contractor Bernard Mutua also said if the ruling party truly won the elections on Aug. 8, which were overturned by the Supreme Court, then they would not be rushing to amend electoral laws.

"This is a clear indication that the polls were rigged, therefore they want to ensure that they do it again and no one stops them, including the Supreme Court," he said.

Ondiek and Mutua declared that they would not participate in the Oct. 26 polls if the laws are changed and the reforms NASA had demanded at the electoral commission are not made.

Meanwhile, Jubilee supporters are happy with the changes and believe they are the remedy to ending the lengthy electioneering period.

"These laws are meant to cure what the Supreme Court highlighted in its ruling as the reasons why it cancelled the Aug. 8 polls.

"I support them because we need to move forward as a country by getting out of the current political stalemate," said George Ndung’u, who runs a mobile-phone shop in Nairobi.

Ndung’u blamed the ongoing political bickering in the country for the poor performance of his business, noting his sales have gone down.

"I barely sell these days.

"Business is bad and it is all because of politics.

"Why not change the laws and get it right then move forward as a country because we have lives to live?" he posed.

However, besides NASA, among those who oppose the changes are workers’ unions, the electoral commission and the clergy.

"What they (Jubilee) are doing is tribalizing the country further, which is not good," said Francis Atwoli, a trade unionist, on Thursday.

Anglican Church of Kenya Bishops led by Archbishop Jackson ole Sapit also condemned the move by Jubilee, noting they are further dividing the country as they were not arrived at by consensus with the opposition.

But Kenyatta on Friday defended the controversial changes to electoral laws, noting they will prevent future mistakes in elections and raise the bar on annulment of polls by the Supreme Court.

Kenyatta reiterated that elections would be held on Oct. 26 and urged the opposition to puts its house in order and face him.

           

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