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Kenya Tensions Rising Ahead of 2017 Presidential Election

Tensions around next year’s presidential poll are heating up in Kenya. A special sitting of parliament to debate changes to the electoral law ended with a fist fight on the House floor.

With fewer than eight months until the general election, Kenyan politicians are wrangling over how the electoral commission should carry out the process.

In September, members of parliament from both sides of the political divide passed electoral reforms, following weeks of protests demanding the electoral commissioners step down. The commission was accused of favoring the ruling Jubilee coalition administration.

On Tuesday, a special session of parliament met to debate proposed amendments to the reforms. The opposition said the amendments were proposed by, and favor, the ruling Jubilee coalition

Opposition legislators began the session by blocking the speaker from accessing the House chamber for more than two hours.

Justice and Legal Affairs Committee Chairman Samuel Chepkonga said the amendments were requested by the electoral commission itself.

Speaker Justin Muturi asked Chepkonga to produce documents to prove the request was made by the electoral commission and that his panel had agreed to present the amendments.

One opposition member of parliament threatened a boycott of the election “if at all we do not have laws … that will ensure free and fair election, then there will be no election, the opposition will likely not participate in that election because there is no reason that we should go to the guillotine.”

The debate ended in chaos after lawmakers began fist fights on the floor. The House has now adjourned until January 24.

Meanwhile, in a media statement, ambassadors from 10 countries denied working with organizations, political parties or candidates to influence the election result.

The statement was in response to the Kenyan government’s order Monday for the International Foundation for Election Systems to stop its voter education program in the country.

The envoys said their assistance supports Kenyan citizens to exercise their right to vote and have their voices heard.

U.S. Ambassador Robert Godec said the organization, which is supported by USAID, has expertise and experience in supporting free, fair, credible and peaceful elections around the world. He said the United States is disappointed by the effort to discredit the program.

Kenya is to hold its sixth general election in August 2017.

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