March 11, 2013 / 1:06 PM / 7 years ago

Kenya chief justice pledges fair hearing for election challenge

NAIROBI (Reuters) - Kenya’s Supreme Court will handle any challenge to the result of last week’s presidential election in a fair and speedy manner, the chief justice said on Monday, two days after defeated candidate Raila Odinga threatened legal action over the outcome.

Kenya's Prime Minister Raila Odinga addresses a news conference after Uhuru Kenyatta was declared winner of Kenya's presidential election in the capital Nairobi, March 9, 2013. REUTERS/Gazelle Jonathan

Uhuru Kenyatta, indicted for crimes against humanity, was declared the winner on Saturday. Odinga refused to concede, although he urged his supporters to avoid any repeat of the violence that erupted after the last election in 2007.

Chief justice Willy Mutunga, appointed in 2011 to reform a legal system accused of serving the interests of the elite, said politicians and political parties had confidence in the judiciary to handle all electoral disputes.

A swift and transparent resolution of the dispute is seen as critical to restoring Kenya’s reputation as a stable democracy, something that was helped by last week’s largely peaceful vote.

“We at the Supreme Court are prepared to hear any petition that may be filed impartially, fairly, justly and without fear, ill-will, favour, prejudice or bias and in accordance with our constitution and our laws,” Mutunga said.

The chief justice was speaking at a news conference on the steps of the court after receiving a copy of the election results from electoral commission officials.

Several peaceful demonstrators waving Odinga posters near the gates to the court hours after Mutunga spoke, shouted: “We want Agwambo not the suspect”, referring to Odinga, who is known as “Agwambo” or the daring one, and Kenyatta.

‘DEMOCRACY ON TRIAL’

In rejecting the result, Prime Minister Odinga said “democracy was on trial in Kenya”. His camp had raised complaints during tallying that the count was deeply flawed and called for it to be halted.

President-elect Kenyatta, now the deputy prime minister, won 50.07 percent of the vote, edging above the 50 percent needed to avoid a second round by about 8,400 of the 12.3 million votes cast.

International observers said the vote and count had been broadly transparent and the electoral commission said it had delivered a credible vote.

Officials from Odinga’s Coalition for Reforms and Democracy (CORD) said their petition would be seeking the nullification of the election result on grounds that Kenyatta’s votes had been increased illegally.

“The days of rigging, the days of stealing votes, the days of covering up in elections are gone. That you can take to the bank,” education minister Mutula Kilonzo, a key ally of the prime minister, told a news conference.

In his acceptance speech on Saturday, Kenyatta, Kenya’s richest man and son of its founding president Jomo Kenyatta, hailed the vote as “the most free and fair elections in our nation’s history”. He however said the process could be more refined and efficient.

The process was hit by the collapse of an electronic system meant to transmit results from polling stations to a national tallying centre. CORD said unexpected delays in releasing the results raised concern over the credibility of the vote.

TRIBAL KILLINGS

Kenyatta faces trial at the International Criminal Court in The Hague on charges of playing a leading role in the wave of tribal killings that followed the disputed 2007 election.

How Western capitals deal with Kenya under Kenyatta will depend on whether he and his running mate William Ruto, who is also indicted by the ICC, work with the tribunal. Both Kenyatta and Ruto deny the charges and have said they will work to clear their names.

The ICC prosecutor on Monday withdrew charges against one of Kenyatta’s co-accused, senior government official Francis Muthaura, for lack of evidence.

The United States and other Western powers, big donors to Kenya, said before the vote that a Kenyatta win would complicate diplomatic ties with a vital regional ally in the battle against militant Islam.

Mutunga said that the six Judges in the Supreme Court would hear any petition filed in the time allowed by the constitution, and invited the media to cover the proceedings live.

“I am sure that for justice to be done and to be manifestly seen to be done this public participation is absolutely necessary,” he said.

Odinga’s CORD has up to seven days from Monday to file its case against the electoral commission.

President Mwai Kibaki won a second term in 2007 after he was declared the winner by the then electoral commission, but Odinga said the vote was rigged and called for peaceful mass action.

However, riots broke out plunging Kenya into weeks of tribal bloodshed. Under a power-sharing deal brokered to end the violence, he was given the prime minister’s post.

Editing by Giles Elgood

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