EDITORIAL: Kenya is going down a slippery slope again

Kenyans have witnessed yet another dramatic week, with Parliament turned into a battlefield as the Jubilee administration and opposition Cord fought over proposals to amend the country’s electoral laws.

By Thursday, when Parliament held the second special session in three days — the first having aborted on Tuesday — the Jubilee side had pushed through the amendments, ignoring a walkout by Cord MPs, and calls for negotiation and consensus.

The amendments were passed in an environment that was anything but civil or democratic amid accusations and counter-accusations, coarse language and even allegations of assault against female members.

The police, in a show of might, cordoned off Parliament as early as 6am.

Live broadcast was cut off and journalists blocked from accessing the public gallery, denying Kenyans the right to see what was transpiring in the House. At some point journalists were arrested, photos deleted from their cameras and some equipment damaged.

In a polarised country like Kenya, any move that promotes mistrust is a recipe for chaos.

Unfortunately, Jubilee’s victory may not be the end to the stalemate, but rather the beginning of an unnecessary and wasteful drawn-out contest that could culminate in violence.

Already, Cord has threatened mass action to protest the changes to the Election Laws Amendment Act, 2016; changes it claims are aimed at weakening the electoral laws to allow for rigging and stuffing of ballot boxes. Such protests often result in creating anxiety and fear, and could culminate in violence and destruction of property.

Cord leader Raila Odinga had declared that there would be no elections if the amendments were passed.

He has not explained what he means or how that will be effected seeing as he is not the authority behind the conduct of elections even though he speaks for a key participant.

Ironically, the law that Jubilee was seeking to amend was itself a product of a negotiated process that brought together Cord and Jubilee senators and Members of Parliament. Even more ironical is the fact that the negotiations took place after months of protracted street battles that were threatening to paralyse the country.

Had reason prevailed in Parliament, perhaps a similar effort would have resulted in amendments acceptable to both sides of the political divide.

The increased political animosity comes at a time the selection for the new commissioners of the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) is very slow and the electoral body might not have ample time to prepare for the elections.

With barely eight months to the voting date, Kenya would be expected to be busy ensuring the logistics are in place for the big day. As things stand, there is still so much to be done — including purchasing of election material, which has now been stopped by court — the plan to have the elections in August 2017 as per the Constitution might as well be declared unrealistic.

This article was originally published in  the weekly East African Newspaper