Kenya Court Upholds Kenyatta Ballot Win Amid ‘Peaceful’ Protest

Kenya’s Supreme Court upheld Uhuru Kenyatta’s presidential victory, dismissing a petition from defeated candidate Raila Odinga, who called on his supporters to respect the verdict.

The court reached a “unanimous decision,” Chief Justice Willy Mutunga said yesterday, reading a ruling on behalf of the six-judge bench in the capital, Nairobi. Kenyatta and his deputy, William Ruto, “were validly elected,” he said.

The decision clears the way for the inauguration of Kenyatta, who is facing a separate legal challenge at the International Criminal Court on charges of crimes against humanity. Kenyatta, Ruto, and a Kenyan radio presenter are accused by the ICC of orchestrating violence after the last presidential election five years ago. They all maintain they are innocent and will fight the charges.

Kenyatta made an offer of reconciliation to Odinga and other competitors to join him “so that we can work together in the interest of the well-being of our people.”

Police used tear gas to disperse groups of youth burning tires and blocking roads in the western port city of Kisumu after the verdict was read. Two people were shot dead by police and others suffered bullet injuries, the Nairobi-based Standard newspaper reported today on its website. Widespread fighting engulfed the city after the 2007 election. Rioters looted and burned buildings in a Nairobi slum, the Sunday Nation based in the city said.

“It is widely peaceful and there will not be widespread trouble even though a lot of people thought there was going to be bloodshed,” Muthui Kariuki, a government spokesman, said by phone today. “Kenyans have decided to put their destiny in their hands and not fight.”

‘Fair’ Vote

Kenyatta, 51, won the March 4 election with 50.07 percent of votes cast, surpassing by about 8,000 ballots the absolute majority required to avoid a runoff, while Odinga got 43.3 percent. More than 12 million Kenyans voted, a record 86 percent turnout of registered voters, according to the country’s electoral agency.

The vote “was conducted in a free, fair, transparent and credible manner,” Mutunga said.

“I want to assure all Kenyans, including those who did not vote for the Jubilee Coalition, and indeed even those who challenged the validity of my election, that my government will work with, and serve all Kenyans without any discrimination whatsoever,” Kenyatta said in an e-mailed statement yesterday.

“I wish the president-elect, Uhuru Kenyatta, and his team, well,” Odinga said after the ruling. “Casting doubt on the judgment of the court could lead to higher political and economic uncertainty, and make it more difficult for our country to move forward.”

Institutional Challenges

Odinga, 68, had said the vote should be nullified and new elections held because of the failure of electronic systems including finger-print identification readers and the mobile phone-based transmission of provisional results. Turnout surpassed the number of registered voters at some polling stations and some return forms were doctored, he said.

The ruling means discrepancies pointed out by Odinga “don’t amount to enough to allow Odinga’s petition to succeed,” Mwalimu Mati, head of the independent watchdog Mars Group, said in a phone interview from Nairobi after the verdict. “They indicated institutional challenges which can be remedied and not corruption or fraud.”

‘Largely Peaceful’

European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said the electoral process in Kenya is “formerly concluded,” and congratulated the country on the “largely peaceful” conduct of the elections. “I commend those who have accepted the outcome even where they have not succeeded and pursued any contests through the due legal processes,” he said in a statement issued today by the commission.

The court had ordered forms to be scrutinized from all polling stations. The Registrar of the Supreme Court said in a report yesterday that it examined documents from 18,000 out of 33,400 sites and found some discrepancies including some sites with missing forms.

British Prime Minister David Cameron congratulated Kenyatta on his victory and urged Kenyans to accept the decision of the court, according to an e-mailed statement from the U.K. High Commission in Nairobi.

The U.S. government also congratulated Kenyatta and commended Odinga for accepting the verdict, urging all of Kenya’s citizens to do the same.

“Now is the time for Kenyans to come together to fully implement the political, institutional and accountability reforms envisioned in the Kenyan constitution,” a statement from the U.S. Office of the Press Secretary said.

Ethnic Clashes

Allegations of vote-rigging by Odinga after he lost his campaign for the presidency in December 2007 led to two months of ethnic clashes that killed more than 1,100 people and cut economic growth to 1.5 percent in 2008 from 7 percent the year before. Kenya is East Africa’s largest economy and the regional hub for companies including Google Inc. and Toyota Motor Corp.

The Supreme Court’s decision on a presidential election petition is final and no appeal is possible, according to the constitution. Kenyatta is set to be sworn in by April 9.

Kenyatta’s trial at The Hague-based court is scheduled to begin in July. He is fighting to have the ICC prosecutor’s office drop the charges, as it did earlier this month for his co-accused Francis Muthaura, the former head of Kenya’s civil service, after a key witness recanted his testimony.

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