Kenya’s Supreme Court has upheld the victory of President Uhuru Kenyatta in last month’s controversial re-run of presidential elections, clearing the way for the 55-year-old leader to be sworn in for a second and final term next week.
After hearing two days of arguments, a six-judge bench said two petitions demanding the cancellation of the polls were “without merit”.
The ruling is unlikely to end the worst political crisis in a decade in east Africa’s richest and most developed economy, which has seen more than 60 people killed in political violence in three months.
Opposition leaders immediately rejected the decision, while government supporters celebrated outside the court in central Nairobi.
Kenya was plunged into turmoil when the Supreme Court overturned Kenyatta’s victory in elections in August, citing irregularities and mismanagement by the electoral commission. The turnout for that poll was 80%. Kenyatta won by nine points. The judges ordered a re-run to be held within 60 days.
Raila Odinga, the main opposition leader then withdrew from the second poll, saying he believed it would be marred by the same flaws as the August vote.
Kenyatta won the second poll with 98% of the vote on a turnout of only 39%.
Many observers are increasingly concerned by rhetoric highlighting ethnic faultlines in Kenya, a regional economic hub and key western ally.
In a statement issued shortly after the court gave its decision on Monday, Odinga said he considered Kenyatta’s government to be illegitimate.
“This ruling didn’t come as a surprise. It was a decision taken under duress. We do not condemn the court, we sympathise with it,” Odinga said.
In last week’s court hearings in Nairobi, lawyers for both sides argued that the country was on the brink and would “plunge into the abyss” depending on the judges’ ruling.
Unrest over the weekend led to further deaths.
Police said on Sunday at least four people were killed overnight in Mathare, a Nairobi slum neighbourhood where there is strong support for the opposition.
Odinga accused the government of being behind the killings, which followed at least five deaths on Friday as police tried to disperse opposition supporters.
In several areas of the capital, riots broke out on Sunday in response to the deaths, as residents set cars and buses on fire and police responded with teargas.
Kenyatta will now be sworn in for his second term on Tuesday next week
The Supreme Court was created by a 2010 constitution that followed a crisis over a disputed election in 2007 in which around 1,200 people were killed in ethnic clashes.
Analysts said the September ruling by the Supreme Court could embolden other judiciaries in Africa. This month, Liberia’s Supreme Court halted a presidential run-off until the election board investigates claims of fraud in the first round of voting.
However the high-profile role played by the judiciary in Kenya has brought unwanted attention.
A last-minute supreme court hearing on the eve of the re-run polls, of petitions challenging the legality of the second election was scrapped when only two judges turned up, raising fears the bench may have been compromised. The bodyguard of the deputy chief justice was shot by unknown gunmen the night before.
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