If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. That, it seems, is the advice of Kenya’s supreme court to its electoral commission. In a shock decision on September 1st, the court ruled that the presidential election held last month, in which Uhuru Kenyatta, the incumbent, beat Raila Odinga (pictured), an opposition stalwart, was “invalid, null and void”. The vote, it said, had not been conducted in accordance with the constitution—so it must be redone. As a display of judicial independence, the court’s decision is without precedent, not just in Kenya but across Africa, where it was widely acclaimed. It represents an opportunity—so optimists believe—to build genuine trust in the country’s institutions, especially its highest courts. Yet it also plunges east Africa’s biggest economy back into uncertainty and creates a new risk of violence.
Arguments have already erupted over the timing of the new vote, which the electoral commission says it will hold on October 17th. Many Kenyans fear widespread violence is likelier this time around, especially if the result is closer.
The court has not yet published its full verdict. But in a preliminary statement it said it found “no evidence of misconduct” on Mr Kenyatta’s part. Nor did it endorse Mr Odinga’s theory that the electronic system used to record the results was hacked. Rather, the judges seem to have decided that they did not need proof of systematic rigging. That the electoral commission committed “irregularities and illegalities”, particularly in the transmission of results from polling stations to tallying centres, was enough to justify a new vote.