YAOUNDÉ, Cameroon – Kenya’s Supreme Court Chief Justice David Maraga has come under increasing threats from the ruling coalition of President Uhuru Kenyatta after the court annulled the presidential election on August 8 that saw incumbent Uhuru Kenyatta winning reelection by 54%.
Demonstrations against the ruling outside the Supreme Court became violent on Tuesday, and police fired tear gas at the supporters of Kenyatta.
In a statement posted to Twitter, Maraga said the demonstrations were “intended to intimidate the judiciary,” and that he and other justices were “prepared to pay the ultimate price to protect the constitution and the rule of law.”
Judicial Service Commission statement on attacks on the Judiciary. pic.twitter.com/7goqSk60Ou
— David Maraga (@dkmaraga) September 19, 2017
The Supreme Court is expected to publish its full decision giving the reasons it annulled the election on Wednesday.
Meanwhile, the Catholic bishops in Kenya have challenged the ruling Jubilee Party to stop the vilification of the judge and the institution he represents.
“We call for an end to this open intimidation and threats to the Judiciary and the Supreme Court,” the bishops said in a statement.
“We call upon the Jubilee and other leaders to accept the ruling and stop the threats, intimidation and vendetta against the Supreme Court. The singling out of Chief Justice David Maraga for vilification carries much more weight than criticism. We can only build our Country together where there is goodwill,” the bishops’ statement continued.
Justice Maraga had described Kenyatta’s re-election as “invalid, null and void,” and lambasted the electoral commission for failing – or refusing – to conduct the election in line with the provisions of Kenya’s constitution.
The court did not see any wrong-doing on the part of the president, but it accused the electoral commission of committing “irregularities and illegalities in the transmission of results,” and that these “irregularities affected the integrity of the poll.”
The Supreme Court ruled against the election results in a 4-to-2 decision, following a petition filed by the opposition leader, Raila Odinga. Although many observers certified the election as free and fair, Odinga produced evidence of several anomalies in the vote counting process and the transmission of totals to the regional and national electoral offices.
Kenyatta, who initially accepted the court ruling, later said the judgment went against the will of the people. He said his re-election had been taken back by “Maraga and his crooks.”
“They have been paid by white people and other trash,” Kenyatta told supporters. “Let’s move on, but they will know we are also men.”
Kenyatta’s comments raised fears that there could be fresh violence if he does not win the new election scheduled on October 17.
But the president later called for calm, saying that he would go back to the people with the same agenda.
The annulment of the ballot has been seen as a sign of the growing independence of the judiciary, and the strengthening of institutions and maturing of democracy in Kenya.
“This is indeed a very historic day for the people of Kenya and by extension to the people of the continent of Africa,” a jubilant Odinga said outside the courthouse. “For the first time in the history of African democratization, a ruling has been made by a court nullifying an irregular election of a president.”
Disputed elections are not new to Kenya, and this has had deadly consequences in the past.
In 2007, violence erupted across the country over a disputed election in which Odinga was declared the loser, and over 1,200 people died. In 2013, Odinga again claimed he lost due to voting irregularities, but his petition was thrown out by the court.
And the initial announcement that Kenyatta won this year’s poll on August 8 sparked a wave of violence that left at least 24 people dead.
Dickson Omondi, a country director for the National Democratic Institute, a nonpartisan organization that supports democratic institutions and practices worldwide, said the Supreme Court ruling annulling that vote was “a historic moment showing the fortitude and courage of the Kenyan judiciary.”
Alex Vines, head of the Africa program at the London-based Chatham House said it was a “watershed judgment,” noting that it was “good news for Kenya. Where you have strengthening institutions, you get a better result.”
And the bishops said the ruling had “enhanced the place of our institutions, especially the Supreme Court, in dispute-resolution.”
Still, Kenyans are nervous as they look ahead to the new poll, with increasing fears that fresh violence could erupt in the aftermath of the court’s ruling.
The bishops are trying to calm the situation. In a statement issued September 6, Bishop Philip Anyolo, chairman of the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops, said that the bishops are available to accompany and pray with Kenyans “at every stage of the journey as we endeavor to build our country together in one accord.”
He said it was time for Kenyans to show a greater sense of patriotism, urging the political candidates to campaign peacefully. He also urged Kenyans to come out to vote in the fresh election, the same way they turned out on August 8.
Political rivalry in Kenya has often been marked by ethnic differences, and these overshadow the rivalry between Kenyatta and Odinga. This dates to independence. Kenyatta’s father, Uhuru Kenyatta, and Raila’s father, Jaramogi Odinga, were allies in the struggle for independence from Britain, which was achieved in 1963.
But they later became bitter enemies, due to the tensions stemming from their ethnic backgrounds. The Kenyatta family comes from Kenya’s largest ethnic group, the Kikuyu, while the Odingas come from the Luo community, which claims it is marginalized in Kenya’s political structures.
Both political dynasties built their coalitions with other communities, but voting is done on largely ethnic lines.
The bishops called for national unity ahead of the vote.
“We, should, as a Country, learn to have amicable ways and means of registering our grievances and resolving our challenges within the time we have before October 17th,” their statement read.
“This is our moment of patriotism and, we must show that our minds have been renewed and transformed,” the bishops said, calling for the “spirit of wisdom” to prevail during the election campaign.