Kenya Court Upholds President’s Election Win

Supporters of Uhuru Kenyatta celebrating in Nairobi on Monday after the Kenyan Supreme Court upheld his re-election in last month’s presidential vote, which was a do-over of the contest last August. Credit Baz Ratner/Reuters

NAIROBI, Kenya — Kenya’s Supreme Court on Monday dismissed two petitions seeking to overturn last month’s presidential vote, paving the way for the inauguration of President Uhuru Kenyatta for a second term.

The unanimous decision is the latest — and, it seems, final — stage of Kenya’s unexpectedly prolonged presidential election cycle, which erupted this weekend into clashes between opposition supporters and the police that were broadcast on live television.

Kenya has been through two presidential elections this year, both of which have come before the Supreme Court for review. The court nullified Mr. Kenyatta’s Aug. 8 win, citing irregularities. On Tuesday, it dismissed two petitions against his Oct. 26 victory, saying they lacked merit.

Raila Odinga, a veteran opposition politician who challenged Mr. Kenyatta in both votes, has said he will not accept the outcome of either election held this year — neither the original Aug. 8 vote, nor the Oct. 26 rerun.

“I’m not a sore loser; I’m a democrat,” Mr. Odinga said in an interview last week. “If I do lose, I’d like to be able to declare the winner fairly.”

The unrest pushed Mr. Odinga out of the country. He left Kenya on Sunday night, according to Salim Lone, a longtime adviser to Mr. Odinga and his political party. He is now in Zanzibar, off the coast of mainland Tanzania, Mr. Lone said.

The Supreme Court matter had centered on the fairness and constitutionality of the latest vote. Petitioners had claimed that Kenya’s election commission had not acted impartially and had not followed the Constitution properly when it organized the Oct. 26 election, which was thrown into turmoil when Mr. Odinga withdrew from the race just weeks before ballots were to be cast. He had argued at the time that the process could never be free and credible.

Then, one week before the vote, an election commissioner fled the country, citing threats to her life, and resigned. The chairman of the commission said political interference by both parties threatened the credibility of the vote. And on the eve of the election, the Supreme Court was unable to hear a last-minute challenge over the process, because too few judges showed up.

The court did not provide reasons for its latest ruling, citing time constraints, but said it would issue a full judgment within 21 days. Kenya’s election commission has said that Mr. Kenyatta garnered 7.5 million votes in the Oct. 26 election, with a turnout of 38 percent. The opposition, however, disputes both figures.

Though ostensibly the final step in the protracted battle over who leads Kenya, John Githongo, a civil society activist and publisher of the Kenyan online political magazine The Elephant, said the ruling did little to solve the underlying problems that the election cycle exposed. Increasingly entrenched political language on both sides, he added, further contributes to the tension.

“The fundamental systemic problem that has led to the space that we’re in remains completely unresolved,” Mr. Githongo said. “There is now no longer any space for compromise, at least given the rhetoric that is coming out now. No one can afford to back down.”

Mr. Kenyatta in Nairobi in October.  Credit Baz Ratner/Reuters 

Mr. Odinga had urged his supporters to boycott the Oct. 26 poll, and it appeared that many listened. Turnout was noticeably lower than it had been in August, and in western Kenya, an opposition stronghold, more than 20 districts did not vote at all. Mr. Odinga’s supporters blocked the entrances to polling stations with bricks or other obstructions and set up roadblocks to intercept ballot papers.

Mr. Odinga’s political party, known as NASA, repeated its insistence after Monday’s ruling that it would not recognize Mr. Kenyatta’s government.

“We in NASA had repeatedly declared before this Supreme Court ruling today that we consider this government to be illegitimate and do not recognize it,” the party said in a statement. “This position has not been changed by the court ruling, which did not come as a surprise. It was a decision taken under duress. We do not condemn the court, we sympathize with it.”

A spokesman for Mr. Kenyatta’s party said it would issue a statement shortly.

The ruling brought out cheering crowds in Mr. Kenyatta’s strongholds, but it stirred unrest in areas loyal to Mr. Odinga. After the decision was announced, some streets in Kisumu, a port city in western Kenya that has a high concentration of opposition supporters, were barricaded with large water tanks and cars were set on fire.

Mwenda Njoka, a spokesman for the Interior Ministry, said there were also two peaceful demonstrations after the ruling in the capital, Nairobi, but that, on the whole, the country was quiet.

Tensions were also high in the multiethnic neighborhoods that are home to Nairobi’s day traders. Five people were killed in two such areas on Saturday night. The police have said that the deaths were criminal acts but not politically motivated, adding that the killings were under investigation, according to the local Daily Nation newspaper. Opposition leaders, however, have said that the victims were targeted for their allegiance to Mr. Odinga.

Mr. Odinga returned to Kenya on Friday after a trip to the United States. Supporters who swelled the streets to greet him on his drive from the airport through central Nairobi came up against armed police officers with water cannons and tear gas. The police have denied firing any kind of bullets, but witnesses reported several deaths and injuries from gunshot wounds.

Mr. Odinga’s youngest daughter, Winnie Odinga, was traveling with her father in his bulletproof vehicle when, she said, they came under fire.

Describing the event in a telephone call, she said the heavy police presence had been unexpected, at one point totally blocking the route, which “forced us to drive on the wrong side of the road.” Ms. Odinga said their car was hit with a tear-gas canister, cracking the windshield, and that gunfire followed.

“The first bullet — that one I actually saw it, it was like slow motion. I never saw anything like that in my life,” she said. She described a bullet ricocheting off the windshield in front of the driver, whom she was sitting behind.

Mr. Njoka, the Interior Ministry spokesman, denied allegations that Mr. Odinga, or any member of his party, had been targeted.

“It is absolutely not true. There was no attempt on his life,” Mr. Njoka said. He called the claim “a creation” intended to stoke support for Mr. Odinga.