Kenyan supreme court annuls Uhuru Kenyatta election victory
Six-judge bench rules 4-2 in favour of petition filed by rival candidate Raila Odinga and orders new vote within 60 days.
Kenya’s supreme court has declared Uhuru Kenyatta’s victory in the presidential election last month invalid and ordered a new vote to be held within 60 days.
The decision to nullify the result, a first in Kenya, sets up a new race for the presidency between Kenyatta and the veteran opposition leader Raila Odinga. Analysts said it marked a watershed in the east African nation and set a unique precedent for the continent.
Kenyatta accepted the court decision on Friday afternoon, calling for “peace, peace, peace” in a televised address.
The six-judge bench ruled 4-2 in favour of a petition filed by Odinga, who claimed the electronic voting results were hacked and manipulated in favour of the incumbent. Kenyatta was declared the election winner with 54% of the vote.
The judges said: “[The election commission] failed, neglected or refused to conduct the presidential election in a manner consistent with the dictates of the constitution.” They did not place blame on Kenyatta or his party.
Kenyatta said he regretted that “six people have decided they will go against the will of the people” but he would not dispute the judgment. “The court has made its decision. We respect it. We don’t agree with it. And again, I say peace … peace, peace, peace. That is the nature of democracy.”
The judgment prompted scenes of jubilation among opposition supporters across Nairobi, the Kenyan capital. In the narrow streets of Kibera, an overcrowded shantytown that has long been a stronghold of Odinga and his National Super Alliance (Nasa) coalition, crowds of people blew whistles, shouted, wept and sang.
Supporters of Odinga outside the supreme court. Photograph: Simon Maina/AFP/Getty Images
The decision surprised many in Kenya, where courts have long been subservient to the president. “In the whole world, all eyes were on this supreme court and the judge did the right thing,” said 36-year-old Frederick Oyieng, a nightwatchman.
Donna Abongo, 39, an accountancy student, said: “It was a surprise because the trend in justice in Kenya is not good, but this time justice has been done.”
Residents in the western city of Kisumu, where Odinga has strong backing, cheered and motorcycle drivers hooted their horns.
Odinga said the court had set an “exceptional example for all of Africa”. “Our judiciary now knows they have the power,” he said. “We thank the supreme court for standing up for the truth.”
Some observers worried that the decision could lead to political chaos. Kenya, east Africa’s biggest economy, has a history of disputed elections and political violence.
But others welcomed a demonstration of the strength of local institutions. “It is a watershed judgment by a court. There is no precedent anywhere in Africa. There is nothing like it,” said Alex Vines, head of the Africa programme at Chatham House, in London. “It’s good news for Kenya. Where you have strengthening institutions you get a better result.”
The Kenyan heads of mission from two dozen countries, including the UK and US, issued a joint statement saying the court’s decision “demonstrated Kenya’s resilient democracy and commitment to rule of law”.
Odinga’s supporters celebrate in Kibera. Photograph: Thomas Mukoya/Reuters
The hearing followed a petition filed by Odinga after his defeat last month. Opposition officials repeatedly described the results as a fraud and claimed that Odinga was the legitimate winner.
Odinga has contested, and lost, the last three elections. His claims of vote rigging in the 2007 elections prompted rioting and retaliation by security forces, tipping the country into its worst crisis for decades. About 1,200 people were killed in the ethnic violence that followed.
In 2013, Odinga said the election was rigged and took his case to the supreme court, but lost.
This time his team focused on proving that the process for tallying and transmitting results was flawed, rather than proving how much of the vote was rigged. Only days after the election on 8 August, Odinga, 72, vowed to remove the government of Kenyatta.
Election observers and western officials had called on Odinga to accept defeat, and said they had found no evidence of “centralised manipulation”.
The court said the electoral commission committed “illegalities and irregularities” in the election. The commission chairman urged the court to quickly release its full ruling with the details. That ruling is expected within 21 days.
Odinga was fiercely critical of the electoral commission. “There are more fundamental decisions to made in the days ahead, including who will conduct the next elections,” he said. “It is now clear that the entire IEBC [electoral commission] is rotten.
“It is clear that the real election results were never shared with Kenyans. Someone must take responsibility.”
Odinga waves to supporters as he leaves the supreme court. Photograph: Ben Curtis/AP
Human rights groups have said police killed at least 28 people in unrest that followed the original vote, and Kenya is braced for further protests over the weekend. Police were deployed to sensitive areas of Nairobi.
Concerns were raised before the election when the official who oversaw the electronic voting system was found tortured and killed days before the vote. The electoral commission has said there was a failed attempt to hack the system as votes were being counted and compiled.
Observers saw last month’s election as the final act of a dynastic rivalry between the families of Kenyatta, 55, and Odinga that has lasted more than half a century. The candidates’ fathers, Jomo Kenyatta and Jaramogi Odinga, had been allies in the struggle for independence from Britain but later became bitter rivals.
Kenyatta is from the Kikuyu, Kenya’s largest ethnic community, and Odinga from the Luo, which has long felt marginalised. Both men built coalitions with other influential communities in a country where voting still takes place largely along ethnic lines.
Many voters in the west of Kenya, Odinga’s stronghold, and along the coast, where there is also traditionally large support for the opposition, feel neglected by the central government and shut out of power.