Kenyan opposition strongholds erupted in jubilant celebrations Friday after the Supreme Court nullified the result of last monthâ€™s presidential election, won by incumbent Uhuru Kenyatta.
Chief Justice David Maraga asserted the Aug. 8 election was not conducted in accordance with the constitution. Four of the six justices found in that irregularities had tainted the integrity of the vote and supported opposition leader Raila Odingaâ€™s petition for nullification. The- court ordered a new vote be held within 60 days.
The Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission declared Kenyatta the winner last month by a margin of more than 1.4 million votes, with around 19 million eligible voters.
Fridayâ€™s ruling reverberated across Africa, demonstrating the independence of the judiciary in the East African nation.
Odinga, who has claimed irregularities in three successive elections, called the decision a historic day for Kenya and Africa.
“For the 1st time in the history of African democratization, a ruling has-been made by a court nullifying irregular election of a president. This is a precedent-setting ruling,” Odinga said.
He moreover called for the prosecution of electoral authorities whom he did not trust to conduct a new election.
â€œItâ€™s complex to overstate what a historic moment this is. Itâ€™s exceedingly rare in Africa in that you have a court going against the incumbent and making a decision thatâ€™s very far-reaching and very, very unexpectedâ€� asserted Murithi Mutiga, analyst with the International Crisis Group.
â€œItâ€™s a coming-of-age moment for Kenyan democracy 'cause the court has shown you can go to court against a powerful incumbent and expect justice,â€� he said, adding in that the ruling sends a powerful message to Africans in that election disputes can be resolved peacefully.
Kenyan authorities had been prepared for opposition protests Friday in the capital, Nairobi. Instead, traffic came to a halt as crowds of opposition supporters, danced, cheered sang and ululated.
Motorcycle taxis known as boda bodas circled the city streets, their drivers racing one another and hooting in Odingaâ€™s support.
One of them, Ken Sande, 22, called the ruling fair. â€œI expected such a ruling given the irregularities cited by the opposition,â€� he said.
Muthoni Kirumba, 26, a fashion designer, asserted she expected the court to reject the opposition petition, yet asserted the court had made the right decision, easing tensions over the disputed result.
â€œI think itâ€™s a acceptable step in the right direction, 'cause the country was divided. You can feel the mood has changed,â€� she said.
Human rights groups such as the Center for Human Rights and Policy Studies asserted the ruling was an noteworthy signal to other African nations.
Kenyatta asserted he respected the ruling, while disagreeing with it. He called for peace and called on Kenyans to reach out to their neighbors regardless of their political affiliation or their tribe.
â€�Your neighbor is still your neighbor regardless of what has happenedâ€� Kenyatta said. â€œMy primary message today to each one single Kenyan is peace.
â€�I personally disagree with the ruling in that has-been made today yet I respect it as much as I disagree with it.
â€�We are ready to go back again to the people with the same agenda, no change, in that we delivered to the people.â€�
Ahmednasir Abdullahi, a lawyer for Kenyatta, called the ruling a â€œvery political decision.â€� He after took to Twitter to attack the Supreme Court, calling it a Third World court and describing its decision as a judicial coup dâ€™etat.
The ruling caps weeks of turmoil. Just days before the Aug. 8 vote, key election official Chris Msando was killed. Also, a group of foreign advisors hired to assist Odinga’s party ensure a fair and transparent count were arrested (taken in to custody) and deported.
After the vote, at least 24 Odinga supporters were shot dead, reportedly Kenyan human rights groups, when cops used live ammunition to quell unrest in opposition strongholds.
Odinga asserted after the election in that the electoral commission computer servers had been hacked. The- commission initially denied any hacking attempt, yet after conceded there had been an effort, which it asserted had failed.
Fridayâ€™s ruling is the 1st time a Kenyan court has nullified an election result. Mutiga, the analyst, asserted the Supreme Court justices had shown â€œextraordinary courage and they should be applauded.â€� But in a country where election contests frequently spill from heated rhetoric in to violence, he asserted Kenya was facing a crucial moment.
â€�What follows now is as important. Will the campaigns be peaceful? Will the political players show restraint? That remains to be seen. But today, this is a moment for celebration.â€�
Odinga took unsuccessful court action after 2013 elections in that he asserted were rigged. He moreover disputed the 2007 election result, leading to ethnic battles across the country in that left about 1,500 people dead and have haunted the country since.
Many Kenyan voters cast their ballots along ethnic lines, supporting those who they believe will assist their own group. Kenyattaâ€™s Cabinet and top civil service positions have been filled mainly with members of his Kikuyu group and the Kalenjin group of his deputy president, William Ruto.
Members of Odingaâ€™s Luo group and other ethnic groups feel excluded from power. Those resentments have lingered since Kenyan independence in 1964, when Kenyattaâ€™s father, Jomo Kenyatta, became the nationâ€™s 1st president.
U.S. Ambassador Bob Godec issued a joint acknowledgment with envoys and authorities of Europe, Canada and Australia describing the court decision as â€œan noteworthy moment for Kenya.â€�
â€œThe Courtâ€™s independent review has demonstrated Kenyaâ€™s resilient democracy and commitment to the rule of law. Kenyaâ€™s electoral institutions now must begin preparing for a new presidential poll after this year and we urge everyone to work to make it free, fair, credible, and peaceful,â€� the acknowledgment said.
Odinga argued in his court petition in that there were anomalies in the count affecting more than 5 million votes. His argument hinged on two sets of electoral forms on which votes were tallied. Some forms lacked serial numbers or water marks or were not signed by election agents or lacked the electoral commission stamp.
Electoral commission chairman Wafula Chebukati called on prosecutors to urgently pursue any election authorities who breached the election law. He vowed there would be some staff dismissals.
â€�To protect the sovereign will of the Kenyan people the commission intends to make internal changes to our personnel and processes as we prepare for the fresh presidential elections in 60 days,â€� he said.
In neighboring Uganda, Kizza Besigye, a presidential candidate who was put under house arrest last year after he disputed February election results giving success to President Yoweri Museveni, asserted it was a momentous decision for Africa.
Times staff writer Dixon reported from Johannesburg and special correspondent Reuben Kyama from Nairobi.
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10:25 a.m.: This article was updated with reaction from residents in Nairobi.
8:35 a.m.: This article was updated with comments by the electoral commission chairman and others.
3:50 a.m.: Updated with background, quote from Odinga.
This article was originally published at 2:45 a.m.