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Kenya's contentious electoral amendments pass into law

The new amendments passed into law on Thursday

A controversial set of amendments to Kenya's electoral act became law on Thursday, just days after a divisive presidential poll boycotted by the opposition.

The amendments, condemned by the opposition as well as Kenya's foreign allies, were automatically gazetted after President-elect Uhuru Kenyatta failed to sign the bill within 14 days or send it back to parliament.

Lawmakers from Kenyatta's Jubilee Party introduced the amendments after the Supreme Court annulled an August 8 election due to "irregularities and illegalities" and mismanagement by the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC).

Coming ahead of the re-run, the opposition saw the planned bill as a means to enshrine in law the failings cited by the Supreme Court.

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However Kenyatta, under pressure from diplomats, did not sign the amendments before the repeat election on October 26, which he won with a crushing 98 percent of votes cast.

Under Kenyan law, if the bill is not sent back to parliament or signed within 14 days, it automatically becomes law.

The amendments limit the power of the chairperson of the IEBC, making it possible for a deputy or member of the commission to take over the role -- which includes declaring the victor of the race -- in case the position becomes vacant.

IEBC chairman Wafula Chebukati was thrust into the spotlight during the election, notably for stating just days before the rerun that he could not guarantee a credible vote, and slamming political parties for interference in the process.

The law also decreases the amount of IEBC members required to reach a quorum, and amends the requirement that all decisions be unanimous.

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One of the main issues that saw the first election overturned, was with the electronic transmission of results, and the amended law stipulates that failure to transmit results electronically "shall not invalidate the result."

Odinga has yet to indicate if he will again petition the Supreme Court to invalidate the election, and has until midnight on Monday to do so.

Court powers curbed

The new law forbids any court from invalidating election results for non-compliance with any laws if this "did not substantially affect the result of the election."

It also states that tally forms must count even if there is "a deviation from the requirements of the form" -- a response to the court criticising the presence of forms without the prescribed security features.

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Odinga, who withdrew from the election two weeks before the race, accusing the IEBC of failing to make sufficient reforms, argued that his withdrawal should force the board to start the whole election process from scratch.

The new law forbids the electoral board from doing this in the event an election is annulled and fresh election ordered.

A petition to delay last week's election on the eve of the vote, citing this legal point among others, could not go ahead as the Supreme Court could not reach a quorum.

While the Supreme Court ruling was hailed as a chance to deepen Kenya's democracy it led to chaos and acrimony that has left east Africa's most stable nation bruised and divided.

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