Kenya’s Supreme Court on Saturday upheld the election of Uhuru Kenyatta as the country’s next president and the loser accepted that verdict, ending an election season that riveted the nation amid fears of a repeat of the 2007-08 postelection violence.
Jubilant Kenyatta supporters flooded the streets of downtown Nairobi, honking horns, blowing plastic noise-makers and chanting.
But supporters of defeated Prime Minister Rail Odinga were angry and shortly after the verdict police fired tear at them outside the Supreme Court.
Outbreaks of violence by angry Odinga supporters were also reported in some Nairobi slums and truckloads of police were called in to quell the demonstrations, according to reports on a police radio heard by an Associated Press reporter.
Odinga, who had challenged the validity of Kenyatta’s win, later urged national peace and unity. “It is our view that this court process is another long road in our march toward democracy, for which we have long fought,” he said. “The future of Kenya is bright. Let us not allow elections to divide us.”
But Odinga said it was unfortunate that some of his legal team’s evidence had been disallowed by the court. This, he said after the court’s verdict, means that “in the end Kenyans lost the right to know what indeed happened” in the counting of votes.
Saturday’s Supreme Court verdict — following a drawn-out court case that raised tensions across the nation — means that Kenyatta, the son of Kenya’s first president, is to be sworn in as president on April 9. He will become the second sitting president in Africa to face charges at the International Criminal Court. Kenyatta and Deputy President-elect William Ruto both face charges that they helped orchestrate the 2007-08 postelection violence in which more than 1,000 people died. Both deny the charges. Ruto’s trial is set to begin in late May; Kenyatta’s is to start in July. Kenyatta has promised to report to The Hague.
Lawyers for Odinga, who finished second, had argued before the Supreme Court that the election was marred by irregularities and that Kenyatta did not win enough votes to avoid a runoff election. According to official results, Kenyatta won 50.07 per cent of the vote, narrowly avoiding a runoff election against Odinga, who said his case before the Supreme Court would put Kenya’s democracy on trial.
But the Supreme Court’s unanimous verdict, read out by Chief Justice Willy Mutunga, ruled that the election was “conducted in compliance with the constitution and the law” and that Kenyatta and Ruto were legally elected.
“It is the decision of the court that (Kenyatta and Ruto) were validly elected,” the ruling said. The reasons behind the judges’ decision were not given Saturday. The chief justice said a detailed judgment would be delivered within two weeks.
George Oraro, the lawyer who argued Odinga’s case before the court, said he respected the Supreme Court’s decision.
“I’ve done my job and the court has done its job and I think Kenya has won. It has seen what the court process can do,” Oraro said.
Unlike after the 2007 election, which degenerated into tribe-on-tribe violence that killed more than 1,000 people and displaced more than 500,000 villagers, this time Odinga said he had faith in the judiciary’s ability to give him a fair hearing.
The court’s ruling ended days of anxiety since March 9, when Kenyatta was declared the winner of the March 4 vote that many described as the most complex in Kenya’s history. More than 12 million Kenyans participated in the election. Some observers had expected a low registration of voters because of apathy following the 2007-08 violence, but campaigns by Kenyatta, Odinga and other presidential candidates led to the highest registration in the country ever. Kenya’s electoral commission registered 14.3 million people.
Election day, though, did not go as planned. An electronic voter ID system intended to prevent fraud failed for reasons yet to be explained by the electoral commission. Vote officials instead used manual voter rolls.
After the polls closed, results were to be sent electronically to Nairobi, where officials would quickly tabulate a preliminary vote count in order to maximize transparency after rigging accusations following the 2007 vote. But that system failed, too. Election officials have indicated that computer servers were overloaded but have yet to fully explain the problem.
As the early count system was still being used, election results showed more than 330,000 rejected ballots, an unusually high number. But after the count resumed with the arrival in Nairobi of manual tallies, the number of rejected ballots was greatly reduced, and the election commission said the computer was mistakenly multiplying the number of rejected ballots by a factor of eight.
Odinga’s lawyers told the Supreme Court this week that the switch from electronic voter identification to manual voter roll was contrived to allow inflation of Kenyatta’s votes to take him past the 50 per cent threshold. That accusation was vehemently denied by the electoral commission and Kenyatta’s legal team.
Xafiiska Wararka Midnimo, firstname.lastname@example.org