By George Obulutsa
NAIROBI(Reuters) - Kenya's election commission rejected on Thursday opposition calls to resign, saying it was reforming the way it handles technology to avoid repeating the failures of the 2013 vote and taking other steps to ensure next year's polls are smooth.
The presidential and parliamentary elections are more than a year away, but politicians are already lining up for what could be a bruising battle in a nation in which violence erupted after the 2007 vote and the result of the 2013 poll was disputed.
Members of the opposition Coalition of Reform and Democracy (CORD), which unsuccessfully sought to overturn the 2013 result, staged a street protest at the election commission's office last week demanding it be scrapped and a new body appointed.
Police fired teargas to disperse the crowd. President Uhuru Kenyatta called on opponents not to stir unrest on the street after CORD threatened more protests.
"We are committed to fulfill our constitutional mandate and give this country a flawless, free and credible election in 2017," the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission said in a statement released at a news conference. "The Commissioners are not resigning."
The commission said it had restructured the way it handled technology, after an electronic identification system collapsed in 2013 drawing criticism from the opposition, who said it cast doubt on the result. The commission dismissed this charge.
The 2013 vote, which brought Kenyatta to power, proceeded calmly despite the opposition challenge. Raila Odinga, the opposition leader who has lost previous votes but is expected to run again, accepted the court ruling.
Western diplomats say the authorities must prepare carefully to ensure another peaceful vote in a country where ethnic loyalties usually trump policy among voters. About 1,200 were killed in ethnic killing that erupted after the 2007 poll.
"Kenya’s politicians and citizens have a responsibility to build trust in the democratic system and to find ways to ensure the electoral and judicial institutions are strong and effective," ambassadors from the United States, Britain and other Western nation said in a joint statement on Wednesday.
Kenyatta and his deputy, William Ruto, who in 2007 were on opposing sides but in 2013 united in a coalition, were charged by the International Criminal Court with stoking the post-election violence. Both denied this. Charges were later dropped.
(Additional reporting by Humphrey Malalo; Editing by Edmund Blair and Dominic Evans)