NAIROBI (Reuters) - Kenya’s Supreme Court on Monday upheld the re-election of President Uhuru Kenyatta in last month’s repeat presidential vote, paving the way for him to be sworn in next week.
Chief Justice David Maraga said all six judges dismissed the two legal challenges to the vote. The opposition coalition NASA insisted the government was illegitimate.
Kenyatta’s main challenger, NASA’s Raila Odinga, said via his adviser Salim Lone that the ruling “did not come as a surprise” and said “it was a decision taken under duress”.
“We in NASA had repeatedly declared before this Supreme Court ruling today that we consider this government to be illegitimate and do not recognise it. This position has not been changed by the court ruling,” the statement said.
It referred to security concerns raised by the opposition about the judges after one of their bodyguards was shot the day before the court was to rule on a request to delay the vote.
The chief justice said at the time police had “enhanced” security after the shooting. The court could not immediately be reached on Monday to comment on NASA’s allegation.
Monday’s ruling clears the way for Kenyatta’s swearing-in on Nov. 28, but it is unlikely to end the worst political crisis in East Africa’s most developed economy in a decade. Sporadic clashes erupted in pro-opposition areas after the ruling.
Odinga had called for a “National Resistance Movement” after Kenyatta’s victory last month. Kenyatta had said he would not engage in dialogue with the opposition until “constitutional options” had been exhausted.
The prolonged election process has disrupted the economy and forced the government to cut its growth forecast. Rights groups say at least 66 people have died in bloodshed surrounding the votes in August and October.
The petitioners had argued that the outcome should be voided because the election board did not seek fresh nominations after the Aug. 8 poll was invalidated, and because the vote was not held in each of the 291 constituencies.
The Supreme Court ordered the Oct. 26 election after nullifying the results of the August election, citing irregularities in the tallying of votes - an unprecedented move on the continent.
The opposition boycotted the poll, which Kenyatta won with 98 percent of the vote. Some opposition supporters mobilised to prevent polls from opening in the west of the country.
“The court has unanimously determined that the petitions are not merited,” chief justice Maraga said. “As a consequence, the presidential election of 26th of October is hereby upheld.”
The court did not detail its reasons. It said it would issue a full judgment within 21 days.
The decision was met with applause in the courtroom from lawyers for the election commission and Kenyatta. The commission said the ruling affirmed its “resolve and deliberate efforts to conduct free, fair and credible elections”.
There was no immediate reaction from Kenyatta.
Kenya, a U.S. ally in the fight against Islamists and a trade gateway to East Africa, has a history of disputed elections. A row over the 2007 poll, which Odinga challenged after being declared loser, was followed by weeks of ethnic bloodshed that killed more than 1,200 people.
Police said on Sunday at least four people were killed overnight in a Nairobi opposition stronghold. [L8N1NP07P]
Odinga accused the government of being behind the killings, which followed at least five deaths on Friday as police tried to disperse opposition supporters. Deputy President William Ruto said action would be taken against those inciting violence.
Odinga put the death toll in violence since he returned to Nairobi on Friday from an overseas trip far higher, at 31. The police tally over the same period was nine.
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.
Outside the Nairobi court, Kenyatta supporters waved Kenyan flags and danced, and celebrations broke out in the central city of Nyeri, a ruling party stronghold, and other cities.
In the western, pro-opposition city of Migori, protesters said one person was killed in skirmishes with the police after the court ruling. Migori county police commander Joseph Nthenge denied the report.
There were no deaths reported from Kisumu, the largest city in western Kenya and a hotbed of opposition support, although police and protesters also briefly clashed there too.
In the Nairobi slum of Kibera, residents said three people were killed on Monday, including a 67-year-old woman and a young man, but there were conflicting reports of who was responsible for the violence. Police spokesman Charles Owino told Reuters that he had no reports of deaths in the capital on Monday.
In downtown Nairobi, Elvis Kinyanjui, a vendor selling socks and watches, said he hoped next year business would be “back to normal”. “Everyone is holding on to their shilling not knowing what tomorrow will be like,” he said.
Shares headed higher and the currency strengthened against the dollar after the ruling, traders said. [L8N1NQ1OW] The markets dropped sharply when the court nullified August’s vote.
Reporting by Maggie Fick and Duncan Miriri; Additional reporting by Humphrey Malalo, John Ndiso and Baz Ratner in Nairobi; Writing by Maggie Fick; Editing by Alison Williams