Kenya’s Elections; the grim history of Presidential Petitions

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For the first time in the history of Kenya, a sitting President contested against a united Opposition. Never before has an incumbent President’s position rowed in murky waters as the one President Uhuru Kenyatta found himself in in the lead up to, during and even after the first general election held on August 8, 2017.

President Uhuru Kenyatta at the Jubilee Gospel Crusade at Uhuru Park Nairobi on 8th June 2013.

Kenya has had various presidential petitions challenging an election since it held the multi-party election of 1992 and the courts on technicalities have thrown all of them out. In that year, when the then president, Daniel Arap Moi defeated the opposition, a total of six petitions were filed at the High Court, however, all of them apart from the one by one Mr. Kenneth Matiba, were thrown out on procedural grounds. Nevertheless, in 2017’s August 8 presidential contest, the sitting President, Mr. Kenyatta’s main challenger and Opposition leader Raila Odinga filed a petition at the Supreme Court, the country’s apex court, challenging his win.

Prime Minister Raila Odinga addresses the nation at the 49th Jamhuri Day celebrations at Nyayo Stadium, Nairobi on 12th December 2012.

According to the electoral agency, the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC), Kenyatta garnered 8.2 million votes, representing 54.2 per cent of valid votes cast beating his rival National Super Alliance’s (Opposition) Raila Odinga who had 6.8 million votes. Mr. Odinga would later contest the results in the Court of Appeal on a number of grounds. He argued that the results were manipulated to give his fiercest rival, Kenyatta, a win.

He even in one instance, went live on two different television channels, Qatar based Al Jazeera and BBC to claim that his rival colluded with IEBC technology experts to tamper with the results. Mr. Odinga also maintained that he would only participate in another election if the electoral body was restructured to have the official who he said had tampered with the vote resign.

Based on these grounds, a historical ruling and a first in the continent African continent saw the country’s Supreme Court nullify the re-election of President Kenyatta and ordered a new vote to be conducted within 60 days. It was a momentous time for Kenya, one of Africa’s most populous nations, and for democracy in general. Previously, the country’s disputed presidential election in 2007 set off bloodshed that left at least thousands dead and 600,000 more displaced around the country. But this time, figures across the Kenyan political landscape, including the President whose victory was wiped away, appeared to accept the decision and called on supporters to do the same.

The ruling also offered a potent display of judicial independence on a continent where courts often come under intense pressure from political leaders. Fresh elections were initially set for October 17 but later rescheduled for the 26 of the same month.

Opposition’s Odinga made good his threat to boycotted the repeat exercise if no proper changes were not made in the country’s election body IEBC before the second round of elections. The electoral body argued that there was minimal time to make the reforms the Opposition had called for. It instead, asked its chairman, who had been adversely mentioned by Odinga as the mastermind of the flawed election, to step aside and let the other officials conduct the exercise.

IEBC, nevertheless, went ahead to conduct another election without Mr. Odinga. There were however, other candidates in the repeat poll. The incumbent was once again declared the winner having garnered 7,483,895 votes out of the 7,616,217 valid votes cast (98 percent).

Three Kenyans contested the results but Kenyatta’s victory was this time around upheld after the evidence adduced lacked merit. This attracted a mixed reaction from various parts of the country with Kenyatta’s supporters taking to the streets to celebrate the decision while Opposition supporters coming out in protest.

The opposition leader has however maintained that he would have his own swearing in as the ‘Peoples President’ and proceed to implement the opposition manifesto, and true to his word, Mr. Odinga was swore himself in on the 30th of January in a ceremony witnessed by thousands of his supported, an event that saw to the closure of Kenya’s key media houses so that they would not transmit it, further throwing the country into a deeper political crisis. It is not clear what the opposition has up its sleeve while the Uhuru government is yet to give any solid reaction to these events. It is therefore a wait-and-see situation in Kenya at the moment.