Kenya ‘a beacon of democracy’ in East Africa, says expert
Nairobi, Kenya, March 15, 2008 (AFP) – Kenya’s African Union (AU) head Raila Odinga on Thursday welcomed a “brilliant new piece of legislation” designed to ensure a free vote on candidates for president and council of elders, saying it was “a beacon of democracy in East Africa”.
But opposition lawmakers have condemned the move as a “massive step down” by President Kibaki’s government, which they denounced as a “sabre-rattling, blood-red electoral law” that would dilute the vote of the poor and marginalised.
“It is a great day for Kenya,” Odinga told a news briefing after a two-hour meeting between him and legislators, a day after hundreds of thousands of supporters filled central Nairobi for a mass rally against the bill.
But Odinga, who was unrepentant about the need for the move in the new millennium, cautioned that “no change is without risks”.
The ruling Jubilee Party, led by Odinga, has secured the support of several key international players such as Britain, France and the United States in hopes of avoiding a constitutional showdown like one it endured in 2002 when legislators put in a contentious bill.
But opposition lawmakers rejected the move as one that would “turn Kenya into a laughing stock”, a step that would have been unthinkable in 2002, when Parliament passed the landmark bill by a narrow majority of only nine votes, a majority that included opposition MPs.
The legislation, aimed at ensuring a free and fair vote in the presidential contest, is only the second such law in Africa after South Africa, where a constitutional change in the early 1990s allowed a free vote on presidential candidates.
The bill proposes a new constituency system that would separate candidates from voters, with constituencies set up to ensure that all citizens have an equal vote.
“This bill is not about giving power to the poor and those who don’t have any political platform. It’s about ensuring that each constituency has an equal voice and this is the essence of a free and fair election,” Odinga told the news briefing.
“A free and fair election is a vital part of a democratic and free society. It is the foundation of a stable democracy.”
He said the system would ensure that the country’s more marginalised voters