After three days of sleepless deliberation, Kenya’s Supreme Court has unanimously upheld William Ruto’s narrow victory in last month’s presidential election, rejecting his opponent’s claims of vote rigging as unproven and even forged.
The ruling is a key demonstration of the independence of Kenya’s judiciary, since Mr. Ruto’s campaign had been strongly opposed by President Uhuru Kenyatta, who had instead endorsed his rival, Raila Odinga.
Unlike previous Kenyan elections, there was no significant violence on the streets after the August vote or the court ruling on Monday, suggesting that democracy is strengthening in the country. Mr. Odinga and his running mate, Martha Karua, said they disagreed with the court ruling but will respect it.
Mr. Ruto, the Deputy President since 2013, will be sworn into office as president next week. The 55-year-old populist had campaigned as a champion of the “Hustler Nation” – unemployed and poor Kenyans who survive on odd jobs and insecure incomes. His campaign symbol was a wheelbarrow, and he talked often of how he had sold chickens on the side of a highway in his childhood.
He is also a staunch Christian, and his religious views have alarmed some analysts, who worry that he could jeopardize women’s rights. In debates over Kenya’s new constitution in 2010, he opposed a provision that allowed abortions under limited circumstances.
Immediately after his court victory on Monday, social-media videos showed Mr. Ruto and his family singing a Christian hymn to celebrate the result. His first tweet after the victory was a quotation from biblical scripture.
Mr. Ruto promised he will not hold any grudges against his opponents. “I commit that under our administration nobody will be vilified or victimized or prosecuted for holding a contrary political view from ours,” he told journalists after the court ruling.
Mr. Odinga, meanwhile, was bitterly disappointed by the ruling, which confirmed his fifth defeat in five attempts at the presidency. The 77-year-old political veteran had been imprisoned for eight years in the 1980s after fighting for multiparty democracy.
After failing to defeat Mr. Kenyatta, he was endorsed by his former rival in a famous handshake in 2018, but it was not enough to secure victory last month. In the official results, Mr. Ruto won by a razor-thin margin with 50.5 per cent of the vote, while Mr. Odinga had 48.9 per cent.
In a statement after the court ruling, Mr. Odinga said he and his campaign “vehemently disagree” with the decision and found it “incredible” – but will still respect it. “We have always stood for the rule of law and the constitution,” he said.
Mr. Kenyatta, in a short recorded speech, promised a “smooth transition to the next administration.” But he pointedly declined to acknowledge Mr. Ruto by name, and he appeared to question the court’s decision. “Do the truths given by our institutions correspond with what is observable by the citizens?” he asked.
Mr. Ruto appeared to confirm the bad blood between him and Mr. Kenyatta, revealing that he had not spoken to the outgoing president for months.
Kenya’s Supreme Court has shown its independence from the government in the past. In 2017, after ruling that irregularities in the transmission of vote tallies had affected the integrity of the election, it overturned Mr. Kenyatta’s victory and ordered a new election.
In its ruling on Monday, the Supreme Court said many of the allegations by the complainants were “nothing more than hot air” and some of their claims were based on forgeries.
When the official results were announced last month, four dissident election commissioners held a news conference to disown the results. They said the vote-tallying process was opaque and mathematically implausible. But observers quickly noticed that the dissident commissioners had made a basic error in their mathematical calculations.
The seven Supreme Court judges, in their ruling, said the four dissidents had participated in most of the election processes until their last-ditch walkout. “Are we to nullify an election on the basis of a last-minute rupture?” the judges asked. “This we cannot do.”
British political scientist Nic Cheeseman, who has written several books on African democracy, said the Supreme Court has become “a significant check on authoritarian backsliding” in Kenya.
The court and the election commission had “withstood a major effort to subvert the process,” he said on Twitter after the ruling. “Kenyan democracy looks rather robust today.”
Kenyan political commentator Patrick Gathara said the election outcome was historic. “For the second time in a generation, and without violence, Kenyans have successfully repudiated a sitting president’s choice of successor at the ballot box,” he tweeted. “This would have been unthinkable in previous times.”
The deputy Chief Justice, Philomena Mwilu, said the judges had not slept for the past three days as they wrote their decision after hearing final arguments on Friday.
“Let’s hope we can continue to grow our democracy this way,” she said in the courtroom after the ruling.
“Even if we say the winners are the constitution and the people of Kenya, the truth is that some six million Kenyans will not be happy today. But that’s the nature of the work we do. One side had to win. ... And now you allow us to go home and sleep.”
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