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Kenya’s Supreme Court annuls presidential election result for irregularities, orders new vote – Washington Post

In a decision hailed as the first of its kind for Africa, Kenya’s Supreme Court on Friday annulled the president’s Aug. 8 reelection victory, citing irregularities, and ordered a new vote within 60 days.

The reversal of President Uhuru Kenyatta’s win stunned East Africa’s economic powerhouse, a country that is a key U.S. ally and pillar of stability in the fragile region. It also showcased an independent judiciary willing to stand up to a powerful executive branch.

The 4-2 court ruling came in response to a petition filed by challenger Raila Odinga, 72, who alleged widespread fraud in the election, including the hacking of the electoral commission’s computer system.

Following the judgment, people in the court broke into cheers and songs with Odinga raising his fists in the air in celebration.

“This is indeed a very historic day for the people of Kenya and by extension to the people of the continent of Africa,” he said outside the courthouse. “For the first time in the history of African democratization, a ruling has been made by a court nullifying irregular election of a president.”

For his part, Kenyatta pledged to respect the court’s decision and head to the new polls with the same agenda. He had been declared the winner of the election last month with 54 percent of the vote.

“The court has made its decision. We respect it. We don’t agree with it,” he said, calling for peace. “That is the nature of democracy.”

It is rare for a court in any country to throw out the results of a presidential election. But the ruling was particularly striking on a continent notorious for fraudulent and manipulated electoral processes. Just last month, Rwandan President Paul Kagame got nearly 99 percent of the vote in an election criticized as unfair by the United States. Last year, Gabon’s president, Ali Bongo, narrowly won another term in an election whose validity was questioned by international observers, extending his family’s 50-year rule.

In Kenya, Chief Justice David Maraga described the results of the recent election as “invalid, null and void.” He promised to issue full details of the ruling later.

“Taking the totality of the entire evidence, we are satisfied that the elections were not conducted in the accordance to the dictates of the Constitution,” he said.

The ambassadors of the United States and European nations in Nairobi issued a joint statement in which they described Kenya’s democracy as an example to Africa and the world.

“The court’s independent review has demonstrated Kenya’s resilient democracy and commitment to the rule of law,” they said.

In many parts of the country, Odinga’s supporters were celebrating. In Nairobi’s sprawling Kibera slum, where six had died in clashes following the election, residents poured out of their homes and danced holding Odinga posters.

In coastal Mombasa, people rode motorcycles through the city, cheering.

According to Murithi Mutiga, a senior analyst with the International Crisis Group, the decision is unprecedented for the continent.

“It was really thoroughly unexpected,” he said. “I think this is an in­cred­ibly important moment for democracy for Africa.”

Mutiga noted that the judiciary had not always been so independent in Kenya, but said that under a new constitution adopted in 2010, magistrates were more insulated from pressure tactics of the executive branch.

Kenya’s high court also showed its independence earlier this year when it overruled a government decision to shut the Dadaab refu­gee camp, one of the world’s largest.

Odinga had also appealed to the court after losing the last presidential race in 2013 — and dismissed it as inept after it ruled against him. Even last month, as he lodged his appeal, he said he had little faith in the judiciary.

On Friday, he said that the members of the election commission overseeing the vote should face criminal prosecution . Wafula Chebukati, head of the electoral commission, promised to make changes to personnel and processes to ensure the integrity of the vote.

He invited prosecutors “to urgently and expeditiously investigate and prosecute any of out staff that may have been involved in violation of the elections offenses act.”

The court’s decision does not quell fears of the violence that has dogged Kenya’s elections. At least 24 people, including a 6-month-old baby, died in clashes after the results were announced in August.

Some schools asked parents to pick up their children early after the decision was announced Friday.

The country’s business community, which backed Kenyatta’s pro-business platform, image, was shocked by the result, with trading briefly halted on the stock exchange after shares plummeted. The currency dropped in value as well.

The mood in Kenyatta’s strongholds was solemn, pointing up the deep divide in the country in the wake of the election.

Odinga, in his campaign, appealed to the country’s less fortunate, promising greater social justice and a fight against the nation’s deep corruption.

Kenya’s election commission had admitted that there had been a hacking attempt on its computer system but maintained it was unsuccessful. International observers had said there were no signs of interference with the vote.

Paul Muite, the electoral commission’s lawyer, argued during the hearing that the integrity of the vote had been protected “as far as was humanly possible.”

Odinga’s lawyer, however, had alleged that some 5 million votes were marred by discrepancies and said that the forms used to record results lacked key security features such as watermarks and the necessary stamps and signatures.

Kenya is vastly more stable than war-torn neighbors Somalia and South Sudan, and has been a key U.S. partner in the fight against the Islamist extremist movement al-Shabab in Somalia. But this country remains riven by tribal rivalries that come to a head at election time, largely between Kenyatta’s Kikuyu tribe and Odinga’s fellow Luos.

After Odinga lost in 2007, the country was engulfed by a wave of ethnic violence that killed 1,400 people.

Schemm reported from Addis Ababa, Ethi­o­pia. Kevin Sieff in Athens contributed to this report.

Kenya’s Supreme Court annuls presidential election result for irregularities, orders new vote – Washington Post

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