Odinga rejects Ruto victory in Kenyan presidential election

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Kenyan presidential contender Raila Odinga is to take legal steps to challenge William Ruto’s narrow election victory, adding to uncertainty in the aftermath of a poll to decide the successor to Uhuru Kenyatta.

On Monday, Wafula Chebukati, chair of Kenya’s electoral commission, said Ruto, the deputy president and self-made businessman, won 50.5 per cent of the vote, while veteran opposition leader Odinga won 48.8 per cent.

“The figures announced by Mr Chebukati are null and void and must be quashed by a court of law. In our view, there is neither a legally and validly declared winner nor a president-elect. Mr Chebukati’s announcement purporting to announce a winner is a nullity,” said Odinga, who was backed by Kenyatta. This was his fifth attempt to win the presidency.

“We are pursuing constitutional and lawful channels and processes to invalidate Mr Chebukati’s illegal and unconstitutional pronouncement.”

Ahead of Monday’s announcement, there were scuffles at the national tallying centre. Four of the seven electoral commissioners left the premises to stage a news conference in another venue disowning the results. International observers left the hall before the results were announced, amid security concerns. Ruto on Monday night hailed Chebukati a “hero”.

Kenyan electoral commissioners, from left, Justus Nyang’aya, Francis Wanderi, Juliana Cherera and Irene Masit announce they cannot support the election results © AP

Minutes before Odinga’s speech on Tuesday, Juliana Cherera, the deputy chair of Kenya’s Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission and one of the dissident commissioners, denounced the tallying process as “opaque and incapable of earning our ownership and confidence”, adding that the “aggregation resulted in a total exceeding 100 per cent”.

“We do not know the actual numbers,” said Francis Wanderi, another commissioner. “The final tally was not brought to the attention of the commission.”

Yet, earlier on Tuesday, an independent observer group said that their parallel vote tabulation — based on data from over 5,000 observers deployed across Kenya’s 47 counties — “corroborates official results”. 

Ruto styled himself as a “hustler” candidate, challenging the established political dynasties represented by Odinga and Kenyatta. As congratulatory messages for Ruto flocked in from the leaders of South Africa, Ethiopia, Somalia, Zimbabwe, Tanzania and Somalia, the Commonwealth group of electoral observers said it was “concerned at the allegations of lack of transparency at the IEBC” made by the breakaway commissioners and others, and strongly recommended “that these allegations be urgently and satisfactorily addressed by the appropriate authority”.

The US embassy in Nairobi urged “all parties to work together to peacefully resolve any remaining concerns about this election through existing dispute resolution mechanisms”.

Odinga’s legal team have until next Monday to file their challenge, after which judges must deliver their judgment within two weeks. A successful petition would annul the presidential election, requiring a fresh vote in the 60 days following the judgment.

There is a precedent. In 2017 the supreme court of east Africa’s dominant economy nullified the result of that year’s presidential election, fought between Kenyatta and Odinga, because of “irregularities” and “illegalities” in the tallying of the votes, prompting a rerun.

“Supreme court judges have demonstrated a strong level of independence in recent years, making the judicial outcome difficult to call,” Eurasia said in a note. Last year, Kenya’s high court pushed back against the president’s proposed constitutional changes that critics called a veiled attempt by Kenyatta to consolidate the political dynasties through Odinga to effectively exclude Ruto. “Political pressure will be immense in the coming weeks,” Eurasia said.

There were fears that the 2022 elections could trigger unrest on the scale of 2007 and 2017 when 1,200 and 100 were killed, respectively, in post-election violence. But for now, the streets have remained mostly peaceful.

“The results are good, I think they were fair since they were coming in live,” said Lucy Wangoi, a 32-year-old business lady and Ruto voter. “I don’t believe that there is anything that happened that is not supposed to have happened. I am very happy with the victory.”

Odinga supporters remain sceptical. “They have already stole elections from Baba [Odinga] many times, this is not fair, something is going on here,” said Boniface Wambua, an Odinga supporter.

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