Kenya’s Defeated Candidate Asks Court for New Election

Kenya’s defeated presidential candidate Raila Odinga petitioned the nation’s highest court to overturn Uhuru Kenyatta’s victory in elections and clear the way for a new vote.

Odinga’s legal team filed papers at the Supreme Court in the capital, Nairobi, stating that the March 4 election had been manipulated because turnout exceeded the number of registered voters at many polling stations and citing evidence of irregularities in the voter list. The court, led by Chief Justice Willy Mutunga, has 14 days to rule.

“The multiple failures of the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission in fact reflect failures of so many of our new institutions,” Odinga said today in an e-mailed statement. “But the one institution in which all Kenyans still have faith is our new judiciary.”

Police fired teargas at a crowd of Odinga’s supporters who had gathered outside the court in the city center. A number of people sustained “minor injuries” as anti-riot police tried to disperse the group, broadcaster KTN said.

Kenyatta, the 51-year-old son of Kenya’s first post-independence president, secured a first-round win in the election with 50.07 percent of votes cast, avoiding a runoff by less than a 10th of a percentage point. Second-place finisher Odinga, 68, the departing prime minister, refused to concede, citing a breakdown in electronic safeguards that he alleges led to “massive tampering” and a fraudulent election.

International Observers

Observers from the European Union and African Union, as well as Kenya’s Elections Observation Group, known as ELOG, which held a parallel results tally, all said the commission managed a credible and transparent vote.

“Given the stamp of approval given to the elections by most international and Kenyan observers, it will be very difficult for Odinga to prove the elections were faulty,” Timothy Longman, director of the African Studies Center at Boston University, said in an e-mailed response to questions.

Munyori Buku, Kenyatta’s spokesman, didn’t answer three calls or respond to a message left on his mobile phone today. Three calls to the mobile phone of Issack Hassan, the chairman of the IEBC, didn’t connect, while the commission’s spokeswoman Tabitha Mutemi also wasn’t available when called.

Odinga has been defeated twice before, in 1997 and 2007. In in the last election, allegations of vote-rigging triggered his ethnic supporters to attack opponents, who retaliated in response. More than 1,100 people died and another 350,000 were displaced from their homes over two months of fighting.

Investor Confidence

Kenyatta and his running mate William Ruto are facing trial at the International Criminal Court for organizing the violence in early 2008. They deny the charges.

This month’s relatively peaceful election spurred investor confidence. The shilling gained 0.5 percent against the dollar since election day, while the Nairobi All Share index surged 6 percent. East Africa’s largest economy is the regional hub for companies including Google Inc. and Visa Inc.

The vote was marred by the failure of electronic fingerprint-readers to identify voters the day of balloting. Technical glitches also halted the relay of provisional results through a secure mobile-phone network to the central tallying center, where the computer system became overloaded. The commission then opted for a manual count of hand-delivered results, causing delays.

A new election must be held within 60 days of the Supreme Court deeming the initial vote as invalid, according to the constitution.

Increased Scrutiny

“We expect a new election and this time around no monkey business,” James Orengo, a member of Odinga’s Coalition for Reform and Democracy, said in a televised interview broadcast by KTN.

Odinga’s case will increase scrutiny on the seven-seat Supreme Court, which has heard only a few cases since its inception in 2011, said George Kegoro, executive director of the International Commission of Jurists-Kenya.

“This is a big test of the courts because the stakes are so high,” Kegoro said in a phone interview. “This would show that no one is so high they can rise above the law.”

Kenyatta’s Jubilee alliance said today it signed an agreement to form a coalition with nine other political parties. The signatories included Musalia Mudavadi, who leads the United Democratic Front and was the third-place candidate in the presidential election, according to an e-mailed statement today from the Nairobi-based Presidential Press Service.