Security tight at Kenya court before hearing on election challenges

14 November 2017 - 12:19 By Reuters
Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta.
Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta.
Image: Moeletsi Mabe

Kenya's Supreme Court prepared on Tuesday to review petitions challenging President Uhuru Kenyatta's victory in last month's presidential election, in what may be the last chance for legal scrutiny of the vote.

Security was tight outside the courtroom, which has been centre stage for Kenyan politics since it nullified the results of August's presidential election. That decision led to the re-run election on October 26.

The court has not convened since the day before last month's election, when it had been due to deliberate on a last-minute request to delay the vote. But that hearing was cancelled because not enough judges showed up to make a quorum.

The judges had demanded more security after the bodyguard of the deputy chief justice was shot the day before the hearing and said they would refuse to attend hearings without it, a judicial source said. The government turned them down, the source said.

The chief justice later denied the Reuters report on the security issue and said the police had "enhanced" the judges' security.

All six judges expected to be present showed up for Tuesday's meeting. The seven-member bench is still missing one of its judges, who fell ill during the hearings related to the August election and has since been receiving treatment.

The judges are expected to announce when proceedings will begin and whether it will hear all three petitions filed - one by a former lawmaker and the other two by civil society organizations.

Kenyatta came to power in 2013 and won a second and final term in August, defeating opposition leader Raila Odinga by 1.4 million votes.

Odinga did not contest the repeat vote on October 26, saying it would be unfair because the election commission had failed to implement reforms. Kenyatta won with 98 percent of the vote, though opposition supporters staged a boycott and prevented polls from opening in the west of the country.

Two of the petitions filed with the court argue the poll's outcome is void because the election board did not hold fresh nominations after the Aug. 8 poll was invalidated.

The third petition, filed by a civil society organisation, is a case against the opposition. It seeks to hold them liable for losses incurred because of their demonstrations.

None of the petitions focus on whether the election board was adequately prepared to hold the repeat poll - a central reason cited by the opposition for boycotting the vote.

The week before the vote, the head of the commission said he could not guarantee the vote would be free and fair, citing interference from politicians and threats of violence against his colleagues.

The court has until November 20 to rule on the petitions. If the election result is upheld, Kenyatta will be sworn in on November 28.

Kenya is a regional hub for trade, diplomacy and security and its prolonged election season has disrupted its economy. Human rights groups say at least 66 people have died in bloodshed surrounding the two elections.

The Supreme Court was created by a 2010 constitution that followed a violent political crisis three years earlier. Around 1,200 people were killed in ethnic clashes after a disputed election in 2007.