The Kenyan Interim Independent Constitutional Dispute Resolution Court ruled [video] Wednesday that prisoners of sound mind will be allowed to vote in a referendum on the country's proposed constitution [text, PDF; JURIST report]. Kenya's current constitution [text] bans convicts from voting in presidential, parliamentary and civic elections, but convicts from Kenya's Shimo La Tewa Prison petitioned the court [BBC report] to allow them to vote in the referendum, arguing that it does not fall under any of the banned categories. This marks the first time that prisoners in Kenya have been allowed to vote in any election. Kenyan officials will now try to register the nation's 53,000 inmates, but lawyers from Kenya's Interim Independent Electoral Commission [official website] warned that the process might not be done in time [Daily Nation report] for the August 4 vote. The five-judge bench also ordered that prisons be used as polling stations.
The new constitution, first introduced last November [JURIST report], includes several significant checks on presidential authority, including a requirement that presidential appointees face parliamentary confirmation and an end to the presidential appointment of judges. Additionally, members of parliament receiving cabinet positions will be required to relinquish their legislative seats. The changes are intended to address issues that led to violence following the 2007 presidential elections [JURIST news archive] where tens of thousands of protesters took to Kenya's streets accusing President Mwai Kibaki of election fraud after early opinion polls suggested rival and current Prime Minister Raila Odinga [official profiles] was in the lead. Kibaki and Odinga both support the proposed constitution [Daily Nation report] and have urged citizens to approve it in the public referendum. Earlier this month, three members of the Kenyan Parliament [official website] were arrested after being accused of hate speech [JURIST report] in statements made against the proposed constitution.