The Supreme Court of Kenya confirmed, Monday, September 5, the victory of the outgoing vice-president, William Ruto, in the presidential election of August 9 before Raila Odinga, a historic figure in Kenyan politics who had denounced fraud.
Under the Constitution, Mr Ruto must be sworn in on September 13. He will become at 55 the fifth president of Kenya since the country’s independence in 1963. Both sides have promised in recent days to respect the decision of the highest court, known for its independence.
This is the third time since its creation by the 2010 Constitution that the highest court in the country has been called upon to settle a dispute over a presidential election. In 2017, she canceled the ballot. A historic figure in the opposition supported this year by outgoing President Uhuru Kenyatta, Mr. Odinga described “parody” the results announced on August 16 and giving the winner Mr. Ruto, with around 233,000 votes in advance.
The result of the 2010 Constitution, considered one of the most progressive in Africa, the Supreme Court is “the final arbiter and interpreter of the Constitution”. Its decisions are final and enforceable, pronounced by seven judges officially appointed by the President of the Republic but whom the latter does not however have the power to choose. The names of the candidates are submitted to the presidency by the judiciary following a process of free candidacies and then selection via public hearings – sometimes broadcast on television.
Created to rule on the decisions of the courts of appeal relating to the law or the interpretation of the Constitution, the Supreme Court is the only court authorized to settle disputes related to the presidential election. It is the highest court in the Kenyan judicial system, “one of the strongest in the region, and it will not bow to political pressure”, said Benjamin Hunter, an analyst at British firm Verisk Maplecroft. According to him, “the court enjoys strong credibility and a judicial process would act as a valve to defuse political tensions”.
A constitutional review process invalidated
During the August 2017 presidential election, Mr. Kenyatta was declared the winner with 54% of the vote, against 45% for the historical opponent of the time, Mr. Odinga. The latter had seized the Supreme Court, claiming in particular that the database of the Independent Electoral Commission (IEBC) had been hacked and the results falsified.
On September 1, 2017, the Supreme Court invalidated the ballot due to“irregularities” and ordered a new election to be held within two months, a first in Africa. This historic decision was hailed abroad as a pledge of independence of the judiciary but castigated by Mr. Kenyatta, who railed against the judges “crooks”. In October, he was finally elected with 98% of the vote in a vote boycotted by the opposition and marked by a low turnout.
Four years earlier, the Supreme Court rejected an appeal filed by Mr Odinga, upholding Mr Kenyatta’s election to his first term.
In March 2022, the Supreme Court once again displayed its independence by invalidating a constitutional review process initiated by Mr. Kenyatta. This project, dubbed the “Building Bridges Initiative” (BBI), aimed in particular to create new positions within the executive, including one as prime minister, in order to attenuate the current “winner takes all” system, causing, according to the President of recurring electoral disputes. His detractors denounced a ploy by the head of state, prohibited by the Constitution from running for a third term, to stay in power. In their respective presentations, six of the seven magistrates considered that the president did not have the right to initiate this review process.
Ridding the judicial system of corruption
Since May 2021, the Supreme Court has been presided over by Martha Koome, the first woman in the country’s history to lead one of the three branches of the state. This 62-year-old former lawyer, a fervent activist for women’s rights, was nevertheless considered an unlikely candidate among the ten contenders for the position.
Mme Koome rose to prominence during the regime of autocrat Daniel arap Moi (1978-2002), when she defended political detainees, including Mr. Odinga. Educated at the University of London, she joined the bench in 2003 after practicing law for over a decade. In 2019, she was part of a five-judge panel that rejected an appeal seeking to block an organization from advocating for gay rights.
She promised to rid the judiciary of corruption and preserve its independence. “I am a judge who watches society and Kenyans will feel safe with me”she said.
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