Kenya’s supreme court has declared Uhuru Kenyatta’s victory in presidential elections last month invalid and ordered a new poll within 60 days.
The decision to nullify the result, a first in Kenya, risks plunging the country into political chaos and sets up a new race for the presidency between Kenyatta and the veteran opposition leader Raila Odinga.
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 had won a second term with 54% of the vote.
East Africa’s biggest economy has a history of disputed elections and political violence.
“The declaration [of Kenyatta’s win] is invalid, null and void,” said Judge David Maranga.
“The first respondent [the election commission] failed, neglected or refused to conduct the presidential election in a manner consistent with the dictates of the constitution.”
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, who leads the National Super Alliance, was the legitimate winner.
Kenyatta called for peace in a televised address on Friday. “The court has made its decision,” he said. “We respect it. We don’t agree with it. And again, I say peace … peace, peace, peace. That is the nature of democracy.”
His lawyers called the supreme court’s decision “very political” but said they would live with the consequences.
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.
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.
“We predicted they will steal the election and that’s what happened. We are not done yet. We will not give up,” he told a crowd of several thousand gathered on a rubble- and rubbish-strewn wasteland in Kibera, Nairobi’s largest slum and an opposition stronghold.
Human rights groups have said police killed at least 24 people in unrest that followed the vote.
Election observers and western officials had called on Odinga to accept defeat, and said they had found no evidence of “centralised manipulation”.
Kenya was braced for further protests on Friday and police were deployed to sensitive areas of the capital, Nairobi. Security was tight around the courthouse before the judges gave their ruling.
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.
“Right or wrong, the supreme court has spoken. So what remains is a fresh opportunity for the people of Kenya, in exercise of their sovereign authority, to once again restate with clarity who they want as their president,” electoral commission lawyer Paul Muite said on Friday.
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.
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