NAIROBI: Kenya's Supreme Court on Monday upheld William Ruto's victory in the August 9 presidential election, ending weeks of political uncertainty and delivering a blow to challenger Raila Odinga who had alleged fraud in the poll.
"This is a unanimous decision. The petitions are hereby dismissed, as a consequence we declare the first respondent (Ruto) as president-elect," Chief Justice Martha Koome said. Deputy President Ruto, 55, scraped to victory by a margin of less than two percentage points in a tightly-fought race against Odinga, a veteran opposition politician now backed by the ruling party.
As Ruto supporters celebrated, Odinga-who had filed a petition to Kenya's top court last month-said he respected the ruling but disagreed with its substance. "We have always stood for the rule of law and the constitution. In this regard, we respect the opinion of the court although we vehemently disagree with their decision today," he said in a statement.
Although voting day passed off peacefully, the results had sparked angry protests in Odinga strongholds, prompting fears that the disputed outcome could fuel violence in a country with a history of post-poll unrest.
Judges spent the last two weeks sifting through boxes of evidence to establish if any irregularities were substantial enough to nullify the election, as was the case with the August 2017 presidential poll, which Odinga also challenged. Koome methodically listed the court's response to the nine issues at the heart of the case.
She said the technology used by the Independent and Electoral Boundaries Commission (IEBC) met the standards of "integrity, verifiability, security and transparency". Any "irregularities were not of such magnitude as to affect the final results of the presidential election", she said, dismissing all the claims made by the petitioners. Odinga's 72-page petition alleged hackers broke into IEBC servers and uploaded doctored result forms, but the claim was dismissed by the court.
'We just want jobs'
In several towns in Kenya, the verdict sparked celebrations among Ruto supporters, who cheered and banged plastic buckets in jubilation. Elsewhere in Nairobi, stony-faced Odinga supporters expressed their disappointment, with a group of women telling AFP: "Not all of us are happy."
But with the economy in the doldrums, many Kenyans said they were relieved to see an end to the political drama so business could pick up again. "This announcement enables us to move on (with our lives)", said Caroline, a 30-year-old flower seller in the capital.
"We just want jobs," she told AFP. Ben Hunter, Africa analyst at risk intelligence group Verisk Maplecroft, said in a note that "any protests by Odinga's followers... will not translate into prolonged unrest, despite international concerns of widespread violence".
"The unanimity of the legal ruling and the ongoing economic crisis will dampen the appetite for conflict," he added. In Odinga's stronghold of Kisumu, where protests broke out last month following the results' announcement, messages calling for peace were plastered on walls and pinned to poles as police patrolled the streets.
"We don't want trouble because we have realised we are the ones who suffer," said Nelima Atieno, a seller of second-hand clothes. Minibus driver Kevin Omolo echoed her views, telling AFP: "We don't want people to demonstrate." "We can't change the verdict even though it is painful."
After 2017's annulment, the IEBC was under heavy pressure to deliver a clean poll. But this year's outcome sparked a rift within the IEBC itself, with four of its seven commissioners accusing chairman Wafula Chebukati of running an "opaque" process.
Chebukati denied the allegations, insisting he carried out his duties according to the law of the land despite facing "intimidation and harassment". Since 2002, no presidential poll outcome in Kenya has gone uncontested.
At around 65 percent, turnout was sharply lower than in the August 2017 election, with observers saying it reflected growing disillusionment among citizens. Odinga, who previously said he was cheated of victory in the 2007, 2013 and 2017 polls, had framed the legal battle as a fight "for democracy and good governance".
Ruto in turn had urged the court to toss out the petition, accusing Odinga of trying "to have another bite at the cherry through a judicially-forced re-run". The 2017 poll saw dozens of protesters killed at the hands of police.
Kenya's worst electoral violence occurred after the 2007 vote, when more than 1,100 people died in politically motivated clashes involving rival tribes. Ruto will be sworn in on September 13, becoming Kenya's fifth president since independence from Britain in 1963 and taking the reins of a country beset by inflation, high unemployment and a crippling drought. - AFP