Kenya experienced a remarkable, if seemingly coincidental, series of events this weekend. Nine people were beheaded by suspected al-Shabaab militants. The Secretary of Internal Security died suddenly. President Uhuru Kenyatta appeared to accuse the judiciary of meddling in the elections. And the opposition leader Raila Odinga was briefly hospitalised. All just a month before Kenya heads to the polls on 8 August in what is anticipated to be a tense vote. … The event this weekend with perhaps the most long-term effects on the elections was a decision by the high court and the president’s subsequent response. On Friday, the court nullified the tender to print ballot papers, which had been awarded to a Dubai-based firm. The opposition claimed that the company has ties to Kenyatta. In their ruling, the judges did not refer to any such connections, but stated that “the failure to consult all the presidential candidates was unfair” and concluded that the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) had not carried out the tender adequately. The court ordered that the process be restarted.
Both the government and IEBC have said they will appeal the ruling. But the court’s ruling was also met with escalated rhetoric. At a rally on Sunday, Kenyatta declared: “I want to tell those in the courts that because we have respected you for a long time we are not fools. We cannot accept the courts to be used by those not interested in the elections to frustrate IEBC.”
Deputy President William Ruto also appeared to accuse Chief Justice David Maraga, who was only appointed in October, of meddling. This prompted the judge to respond with a statement that warned: “We in the Judiciary are open to constructive engagement, including being criticised. However, when political leaders cast aspersions on the administration of justice based on a misinterpretation of my statements, it has the potential to impair public confidence in our courts.”
The most direct effect of the high court decision is that the election may be postponed, as it may prove difficult for voting papers to be printed in time for 8 August. But more worryingly, it may weaken confidence in both the IEBC and court system.
Mistrust in the courts was an important factor in the deadly 2007/8 election violence. Moreover, after the 2013 elections, Odinga filed a Supreme Court case against the electoral commission, alleging voter irregularities and fraud. The Court ruled unanimously that the election was fair, but questions over the competency of the commission and legitimacy of the ruling remained, with the Law Society of Kenya finding faults with the decision.