Kenyan Court Nullifies President Kenyatta’s Election Victory

  • Court orders fresh vote within 60 days in landmark ruling
  • Opposition had challenged election result, alleging rigging

Kenyan Court Nullifies Vote, Orders New Election

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Kenya’s top court nullified last month’s presidential election, upholding the main opposition’s complaint that Uhuru Kenyatta’s victory was aided by rigging in a shock decision that’s unprecedented in Africa.

The electoral authority failed to conduct the ballot in line with the constitution, Chief Justice David Maraga told a packed courtroom in the capital, Nairobi, on Friday. He ordered a new vote to be held within 60 days, sparking dancing and singing in the streets outside the court and opposition strongholds in the city’s slums.

“This is really a great day for Africa,” said Moeletsi Mbeki, deputy chairman of the Johannesburg-based South African Institute for International Affairs. “Kenya is a very, very important country for the continent. It is very important that it functions along democratic lines for it to be stable.”

NASA supporters celebrate following the supreme court’s decision in Nairobi, Sept. 1.

Photographer: Simon Maina/AFP via Getty Images

Kenya is the world’s largest shipper of black tea and a regional hub for companies including Google Inc. and Coca Cola Co. The court’s decision comes at a time when demands for political change are spreading across Africa. Opposition parties won power in the past five years in Nigeria, the continent’s most populous nation, Ghana, Gambia and Senegal, while street protests chased Burkina Faso’s strongman Blaise Compaore from power in 2014.

Kenyan shares tumbled and the currency dropped after the court ruling, reflecting perceptions that prolonged elections will mean continued uncertainty, said Razia Khan, chief Africa economist at Standard Chartered Plc in London. The benchmark stock index closed down 1.2 percent, while the shilling traded 0.2 percent weaker against the dollar. Safaricom Ltd., the country’s largest company, dropped as much as 10 percent, the biggest decline in a year.

‘More Uncertainty’

“A re-run of the election will contribute to more uncertainty and prolong any return to business-as-usual, allowing the focus to shift back to the economy,” Khan said. “Longer term, however, the Supreme Court decision will be seen as strengthening Kenya’s institutions, an important step forward for the overall development of the country.”

Read a related story about market reaction to the ruling

The government expects growth to slow to 5.5 percent this year, from 5.8 percent in 2016.

Computer Hacking

Lawyers acting for opposition leader Raila Odinga’s five-party National Super Alliance argued that the Independent Electoral & Boundaries Commission’s computer systems were hacked to secure Kenyatta a second term. Vote tallies didn’t correlate with results released at polling stations and requisite forms weren’t available to authenticate the outcome, they said.

A big question mark hangs over the electoral commission, which the court said had failed in its mission to deliver a fair vote and will be responsible for holding a new one.

IEBC Chairman Wafula Chebukati told reporters that the commission is awaiting the court’s written judgment before making any decisions about what action it will take after the ruling.

Odinga, a former prime minister, waged unsuccessful presidential campaigns in 1997, 2007 and 2013. The Supreme Court threw out his allegations of rigging in the 2013 vote that propelled Kenyatta to power, a ruling Odinga has previously described as a “travesty of justice.”

Odinga reacts in court in Nairobi, Sept. 1.

Photographer: Simon Maina/AFP via Getty Images

‘Historic Day’

“For the first time in the history of the democratization of Africa, the court has nullified the election of a president,” Odinga said outside the court on Friday.

Kenyatta said that while he doesn’t support the ruling, he will respect it.

“I disagree with it because, as I have said, millions of Kenyans queued, made their choice and six people have decided that they will go against the will of the people,” he said in a televised address.

The ruling increases the likelihood of a violent crisis in Kenya, John Ashbourne, Africa economist at Capital Economics Ltd. in London, said in an emailed note.

“The new vote will be very tense,” he said. “The ruling leaves the authorities with little time to improve or reform the scandal-plagued election commission, which may throw doubt on the result. Opposition supporters –- whose distrust in the voting system appears to have been validated –- may see another win for president Kenyatta as proof that the authorities are conspiring against them.”

Security Forces

Clashes between security forces and Odinga supporters claimed 24 lives after the result was declared on Aug. 11, according to the Kenyan National Commission on Human Rights. The opposition claimed security forces killed more than 100 people during protests while police confirmed 10 deaths in Nairobi and didn’t release tolls from other areas. The deaths evoked memories of two months of ethnic conflict after a disputed 2007 vote that left more than 1,100 people dead.

The outcome of the new vote is too close to call, and the same officials who ran the last one will probably conduct the rerun, said Phillip O. Nying’uro, chairman of the department of polical science at the University of Nairobi.

“It is going to be very tricky; we may end up with the same outcomes,” he said. “There is a history of impunity in Kenya. This has not ended with this ruling.”

— With assistance by Helen Nyambura-Mwaura, Selcuk Gokoluk, and Adelaide Changole

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