Kenya's Cord MPs storm out over 'fight'

Cord MPs march to court in Kenya - 22 December 2016 Image copyright The Star
Image caption Cord MPs went straight to court after leaving parliament

Opposition MPs in Kenya have stormed out of parliament in the capital, Nairobi, saying that they have been assaulted in the house.

The chaos came during a debate on changing the electoral laws to allow manual vote-counting for next year's presidential election.

The government wants a back-up to the electronic system but the opposition says it is a way of rigging the poll.

The initial debate on Tuesday also saw rival MPs exchange punches.

Kenyan politics is known to be highly partisan and this is not the first time MPs have fought in parliament.

In 2014, four lawmakers were assaulted and one had his shirt torn.

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The opposition Cord coalition said one of its MPs had a bloody face following Thursday's confrontations with MPs from the governing Jubilee party.

After leaving parliament, some Cord MPs went to court to seek an injunction to block the changes.

In their absence, government-allied MPs passed the amendments.

Cord has now called for mass action on 4 January 2017 to protest over the new law.

When the fights first broke out on Tuesday evening, the live video feed from parliament was cut and journalists were ordered out of the press gallery.

'House Of Chaos', by Nancy Kacungira in Nairobi

Image copyright Getty Images

Kenyans have roundly criticized their lawmakers this week, dubbing parliament a "House of Chaos" as insults were traded and fistfights ensued over proposed amendments to election laws.

The underlying concern is that the acrimony surrounding the debate is planting a seed that will produce poisonous fruit in the general elections next year.

A parliament viciously divided along political lines goes against the calls for unity that Kenyans want to heed in the highly charged campaign period to come.

With the elections less than eight months away, the current disagreement on an issue as fundamental as what method the electoral commission should use to conduct the polls is also raising fears that deadlines will not be met, or preparations will be rushed.

Thursday's session was also not broadcast on national TV and at least one journalist was briefly detained for filming proceedings.

During that debate, Cord MP Millie Odhiambo attacked President Uhuru Kenyatta, calling him "extremely stupid".

Mr Kenyatta gave his initial response to that attack at an event to usher in the festive season, saying "some idiots continue to insult me" but added that it was part of their freedom.

But Mr Kenyatta seems to have now ended his war of words with Ms Odhiambo, as a local media station on Wednesday shared a picture of a Christmas card from the president addressed to the MP.

'No transparency, no elections.''

Calling for mass protests, Cord leader Raila Odinga told reporters: "No transparency, no elections.''

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption A May 2016 protest by Mr Odinga's supporters over the electoral reforms was dispersed by riot police

According to a recent opinion poll, Mr Odinga is President Kenyatta's closest challenger in the upcoming election.

The poll by Ipsos credits him with about 22% of the intended votes as opposed to 50% for Kenyatta.

To improve his chances for a win, the opposition leader is understood to be working to put together a larger coalition to back his bid.

The passing of the bill has been condemned by the Catholic church, which has 11 million followers in a country of 40 million.

The chairman of the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops Justice and Peace Commission, Rev Cornelius Korir, said it went against the spirit of jointly negotiated amendments to reform electoral laws passed in August by parliament.

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