20 September 2017

Kenya Court Blames Electoral Commission Over Annulled Election

Kenya's Supreme Court has delivered scathing criticism of the election board's conduct during last month's botched presidential vote. The opposition claims the poll was manipulated to help President Kenyatta win.

The Nairobi court handed down a detailed judgment on Wednesday explaining why it nullified the victory of President Uhuru Kenyatta in the August election.

Reading out the statement, Judge Philomena Mwilu described "disturbing, if not startling, revelations" about the performance of the country's Independent Elections and Boundaries Commission (IEBC).

President Kenyatta was named the winner of the August 8 election, officially winning 54 percent of the vote. The Supreme Court nullified the result earlier this month, citing irregularities, after opposition leader Raila Odinga filed a petition claiming the electoral commission's computers were hacked to skew the outcome.

The court has set a new election date for October 17.

Allegations of hacking

Addressing the court, Judge Mwilu said the electoral body had refused to comply with court orders to open its computer servers, saying this suggested that opposition claims of tampering could be true.

"Our order of scrutiny was a golden opportunity for the IEBC to place before the court evidence to debunk the petitioner's claim," she said. "Failure by the board to do as ordered must be held against it."

She added that the court was left with no choice but to determine that the election commission's "system was infiltrated and compromised and the data therein interfered with, or IEBC officials themselves interfered with the data, or it had bungled the transmission system and were unable to verify the data."

Mwilu also said it appeared the board did not have all the necessary tally forms, with thousands unaccounted for, at the time they announced official results. "The [board] cannot, therefore, be said to have verified the results," she noted.

"The Supreme Court's ruling can have a huge impact on the country's future," Jan Cernicky, head of the Konrad Adenauer Foundation in Nairobi, told DW. "That largely depends on the elections that should take place on October 17, but we are really not sure if they will take place." He said if the repeat election goes well, it might be a huge step to improve the rule of law and freedom of expression. Cernicky said the success of the October 17 election will send a strong signal to other African countries that "this is possible."

The IEBC blamed network failures for missing and delayed tally forms, with some polling stations unable to scan and send the documents on time. But the judges rejected this excuse, saying officials should have been better prepared.

"Failure of the electronic system was a direct violation of the law," Mwilu said. "We find that the 2017 presidential election was neither transparent nor verifiable."

Protests outside court

Police used tear gas to disperse opposition and pro-government supporters who had gathered outside the court building while the judgment was read out.

Tensions in the Kenyan capital had been mounting in the leadup to the ruling, with the judiciary reportedly receiving death threats over the decision to void the vote. Chief Justice David Maraga on Tuesday accused police of failing to provide sufficient protection - a charge police denied.

"I don't think the court will make the divisions that you see in Kenya any worse, Cernicky said. "There were tensions before, we will have tensions after the court's ruling and also after the next election."

Kenyatta has also called the Supreme Court judges "crooks" and threatened to take unspecified action against the judiciary if he is re-elected next month.

nm/msh (AP, AFP, Reuters, dpa)

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