Kenya’s Supreme Court quashes presidential election result

Kenya's highest court annuls presidential election result. A historic day for Kenya or the beginning of a dangerous crisis?  


Kenya’s Supreme Court has dramatically annulled Uhuru Kenyatta’s victory in August’s presidential election and ordered a rerun within 60 days.

Kenyatta was announced the winner of the ballot held in August with 54% of the vote. However, the court cited irregularities in the conduct of the vote, with a 4-2 majority decision ruling in favour of a petition by opposition leader Raila Odinga.

Announcing the decision, Chief Justice David Maraga argued that the election had “not been conducted in accordance with the constitution…The declaration [of Kenyatta’s win] is invalid, null and void”.

Maraga added: “The first respondent (the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission) failed, neglected or refused to conduct the presidential election in a manner consistent with the dictates of the constitution.” 

The decision represents a major political earthquake in Africa, where powerful incumbents are rarely challenged in the aftermath of contentious elections. The court’s shock judgment marks a significant victory for veteran opposition leader Odinga, who repeatedly alleged malfeasance in the conduct of the vote, including claims denied by the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission that electronic voting results had been successfully hacked. The run up to the vote was marked by court challenges over voting procedures and fears over the effectiveness and credibility of the IEBC, whose management was only appointed in January.

Odinga said: “It’s a very historic day for the people of Kenya and by extension the people of Africa. For the first time in the history of African democratisation, a ruling has been made by a court nullifying [the] irregular election of a president. This is a precedent-setting ruling.”

A rerun of the vote raises fears of a return to violence in a country with a history of combustible electoral politics. In 2007, up to 1,500 were killed in postelection violence after Mwai Kibaki was declared the winner over Raila Odinga.

“The Kenyan Supreme Court’s nullification of the country’s August election has significantly increased the likelihood of a violent crisis in East Africa’s largest economy,” says John Ashbourne, Africa economist at Capital Economics.

“The new vote will be very tense. 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. Given the scale of the president’s victory, this is the most likely outcome.”

Yet analysts also believe that the court’s decision could bolster citizen’s fragile confidence in Kenya’s electoral system. 

“This unprecedented ruling gives a much-needed boost of confidence in the system, with the population suddenly seeing election irregularities being handled correctly via the courts. This will prove transformative for the future. In the short term, we are likely to see the markets weakening as political tension resumes over the next two months,” says Faith Mwangi, analyst in Nairobi at Exotix Capital.

David Thomas

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