Kenya’s prime minister Raila Odinga last Saturday filed a petition challenging the declaration of Uhuru Kenyatta as president-elect (with 50.07% to 43.28%) after the presidential elections earlier this month.
In the petition Mr. Odinga cites a host of factors that, in his view, significantly compromised the integrity of the election – including an unstable voter register; inconsistencies and errors in final vote counts; and failures in the electronic tallying system.
In a rally in Mombasa this week Odinga claimed to have won the election with 5.7m votes to Kenyatta’s 4.5m.
With the filing of the petition, the country’s attention has shifted to the Supreme Court. The court is constitutionally mandated to issue its ruling within a fortnight from last Saturday (latest March 30).
Should the court find in favor of Odinga’s petition Kenyans will have a re-run election in late May, with a possible runoff a month after that. The law says that in case of irregularities the court has to nullify the entire (presidential) election. It is unclear if the judges can rule on limiting the re-run to a runoff between Kenyatta and Odinga. If the judges dismiss the case Kenyatta will be sworn in on April 9th.
It is obvious that the ruling will be as political as it will be legal. Six judges (see here) will hear the case as the nominated deputy Chief Justice is yet to be confirmed by the National Assembly. Under normal circumstances five judges would have heard the case to avoid a tie but since the selection of the five would have tilted the case one way or the other all six will be present.
Should there be a tie the status quo will hold and Kenyatta will be sworn in early next month.
So how might the judges vote?
Based on my conversations with people in the know, it appears that the swing justices will be Chief Justice Mutunga and Justice Mohamed Ibrahim. The two are largely expexted to adhere the most to the legal merits and implications of the petition. The eventual ruling will therefore partly depend on the ability of the two to persuade their colleagues. As President of the court, CJ Mutunga will be under pressure to be on the winning side of the ruling.
A tie would be the worst of possible outcomes as it would suggest that the court, by far the most trusted Kenyan institution, is just as divided as the rest of the country.
The court’s only other ruling before this was on affirmative action to increase the proportion of women in the Kenyan parliament to a third. They voted against (arguing for a gradualist achievement of the same), with CJ Mutunga being the sole dissenter.
On the left-right spectrum CJ Mutunga is the most progressive member of the court (and the highest rated public official, despite Kenya’s socially conservative bend). Justices Wanjala, Ibrahim and Ndungu are centrists, while Ojwang and Tunoi are conservative.
This means that the Raila legal team must leave no stone unturned in their quest to have this thing reversed. The legal team will have to produce concrete and irrefutable evidence, otherwise they will end up with egg on the face after having talked tough.
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