Raila Odinga accepts Kenya’s Supreme Court decision to uphold William Ruto’s poll victory
The Supreme Court’s decision to dismiss Raila Odinga’s petition, in which he denounced the election results as a ‘travesty’, has left Kenya’s democracy more robust, says one expert.
Kenya’s Supreme Court upheld the 9 August election of William Ruto as president in a unanimous decision on Monday – rejecting claims of rigging by opposition leader Raila Odinga, Ruto’s main rival.
For Odinga (77), the announcement by Chief Justice Martha Koome meant he had lost his fifth attempt at the presidency. He has no further legal recourse.
Odinga said he and his Azimio political coalition had always stood for the rule of the law and the constitution and so “we respect the opinion of the court, although we vehemently disagree with their decision today”.
Odinga’s acceptance of the court’s decision suggested his supporters would do so too.
One observer said there could be some localised unrest, but they did not expect widespread violence – of the kind which has followed some previous elections, notably in 2007.
“Nairobi remains peaceful,” one said. “The country is divided between Ruto zones in the Rift Valley celebrating, and the rest of the country has gone quiet.”
Kenya expert Nic Cheeseman said that the court’s decision had demonstrated its independence and authority, and that “Kenya’s democracy looks rather robust today”.
Ruto (55) has been deputy president since 2013 to President Uhuru Kenyatta. But in 2016, the two fell out and Kenyatta controversially backed his old rival Odinga in this year’s election.
Narrow victory and dissent
Wafula Chebukati, chairperson of Kenya’s Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC), declared Ruto the narrow victor – by 50.49% to Odinga’s 48.55% – in a dramatic announcement on 15 August at the national counting centre. By getting just more than half the votes cast, Ruto had won in the first round, avoiding a run-off election against Odinga.
But four of the seven IEBC commissioners, led by deputy chairperson Juliana Cherera, immediately dissented from Chebukati’s decision, saying he had announced it without their consent.
In an affidavit presented later to the Supreme Court, Cherera claimed, among other things, that before the elections Chebukati had secretly ordered the printing of a second set of results forms without involving other commissioners.
This appeared to be designed to corroborate allegations from Odinga that the IEBC had substituted doctored results forms from many polling stations to inflate Ruto’s votes.
Visit Daily Maverick’s home page for more news, analysis and investigations
She also claimed Chebukati had reassigned certain commissioners and IEBC staff to protocol and other non-decision making roles, apparently to neutralise any resistance to what she characterised as unilateral decisions by him.
In his petition, Odinga called the IEBC decision a “travesty”, raising nine major grounds of objections to the official results. Among these, he said 140,028 votes had not been counted and these would have pushed Ruto’s votes below the 50% plus one vote needed to avoid a run-off.
But after a week of deliberations the seven-judge Supreme Court threw out Odinga’s petition, calling for the election to be annulled – as the court had annulled Kenyatta’s victory over him in 2017.
“This is a unanimous decision of the court … this court upholds the election of the first respondent [William Ruto] as the president-elect,” Koome, the chief justice and head of the court, said during a televised ruling on Monday.
Koome added that “apart from their eleventh-hour denunciation of the verification process … the four [dissenting] commissioners have not shown any evidence that the election was compromised”.
She also said the court had found no evidence that the results had been tampered with by hacking the IEBC servers – also alleged by Odinga.
“We find it incredible that the judges found against us on all nine grounds and on occasion resorted to unduly exaggerated language to refute our claims,” Odinga said.
This was the end of the legal road for Odinga and many observers believe it will also be the end of his long political career in which he has served as prime minister and in other cabinet portfolios.
Ruto is likely to be sworn into office within days. He campaigned on a platform of championing the interests of the “hustlers” – ordinary Kenyans battling to make ends meet – and against the interests of the elite, the “dynasties”, as he called them, in a snipe at both Odinga and Kenyatta, who are the sons of powerful and rich political families. Kenyatta’s father Jomo was the country’s first post-independence president and Odinga’s father Oginga was his deputy.
But whether Ruto – himself reputed to be a billionaire – will deliver on his promise to the poor and downtrodden remains to be seen.
Cheeseman, professor of democracy at Birmingham University, said: “Another powerful judgment by the court that once again demonstrates its independence and authority … The IEBC and court withstood a major effort to subvert the process.”
He also called on Azimio to channel its energies into holding Ruto to account. DM