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Kenyan president says Supreme Court election ruling was "coup"
September 21, 2017 / 2:20 PM / 3 months ago

Kenyan president says Supreme Court election ruling was "coup"

(This Sept. 21 story corrects to remove reference to constitutional crisis if poll not held within 60 days in para 15)

Kenya's President Uhuru Kenyatta addresses leaders from pastoralist communities at State House in Nairobi, Kenya September 21, 2017. Presidential Press Service/Handout via REUTERS

By George Obulutsa and John Ndiso

NAIROBI (Reuters) - Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta said on Thursday the country’s Supreme Court staged a “coup” against the will of the people when it annulled his win in last month’s presidential election, his toughest rhetoric yet in the wake of the Aug. 8 vote.

His remarks came on the same day that the election board announced the repeat election had been delayed until Oct. 26.

The president’s criticism comes as Kenya’s political temperature is heating up, reviving fears of political violence. Clashes killed around 1,200 people following a disputed 2007 presidential vote.

“A coup in Kenya has just been done by the four people in the Supreme Court,” Kenyatta said in a televised meeting with supporters, delivered mostly in Kiswahili. “(The court is saying) ‘numbers don’t matter, it is processes that matter.'”

Immediately following the court’s surprise Sept. 1 ruling to annul the vote, Kenyatta had called for calm and respect for the ruling. But he later started to criticise the court.

The decision to nullify the race on procedural grounds was the first time a judicial body cancelled the election of an incumbent African president.

Kenya, a Western ally, has East Africa’s richest economy and is a hub for diplomacy, security and trade in a region often battered by conflict. Any sign of political instability sends ripples through the region.

The election board had said last month that Kenyatta won the Aug. 8 vote by 1.4 million more votes than his chief rival, veteran opposition leader Raila Odinga, who contested the result in court.

Four judges and two dissenting judges gave a detailed case for voiding the election -- or upholding it -- in a marathon 12-hour court session on Wednesday.

Kenyatta said in a televised news conference that the court had failed to adequately examine evidence that would have buttressed his win.

“The Supreme Court owes Kenyans an explanation how such a monstrous injustice took place,” he said. “It (the ruling) also now has the potential to throw our country into judicial chaos.”

He said lower courts could follow the precedent and overturn the will of voters in other electoral contests, like local or legislative seats, adding he had asked parliament to address the issues raised by the judgement.

On Thursday, the cabinet approved 10 billion shillings ($97 million) to fund the repeat election.

Odinga has said he will not take part in the repeat vote unless a list of demands, including firing of some senior staff at the election board, are met. The court said it had found no evidence of individual culpability by the staff of the board.

The court ruled that the country must hold the election by the end of October.

The court’s detailed judgment given on Wednesday hinged on the failure of the election board to check electronic tallies, which are vulnerable to typos, against paper forms intended as a fail-safe backup before announcing results. Judges did not say they found evidence of rigging.

Kenyatta said he would respect the court’s decision but said it subverted the will of the people.

“We have reversed everything in this country by the decision of a few people. I don’t know how history will judge these gentlemen,” he said. “The citizen has been told he does not have a voice ... If that is not dictatorship, then I don’t know what to say.”

Writing by Katharine Houreld and Duncan Miriri; Editing by Toby Chopra

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