In a stunning setback for President Uhura Kenyatta, Kenya’s Supreme Court on Friday annulled his Aug. 8 reelection victory citing irregularities and ordered a new vote within 60 days.
The reversal, the first of its kind, shocked the country, East Africa’s economic powerhouse and pillar of stability in a fragile region.
The majority ruling of the six judges on the bench came in response to a petition filed by challenger Raila Odinga, 72, who alleged widespread fraud in the election, including the hacking of the electoral commission’s computer system.
It is the fourth time Odinga has lost an election, often alleging fraud.
“After considering the totality of the entire evidence, we are satisfied that the elections were not conducted in the accordance to the dictates of the Constitution and the applicable principles,” said Chief Justice David Maraga, according to the Kenya’s Nation daily.
Following the judgment, the court broke into cheers and songs with Odinga raising his fists in the air in celebration.
Lawyers for the president condemned it as “a very political decision” but said they would abide by the results.
Heavy security surrounded the courthouse ahead of the decision over fears supporters of Odinga would riot if the decision went against him.
After the announcement of the original election results which Kenyatta won by 54 percent, Odinga’s supporters took to the streets and clashed with police, resulting in 24 dead.
This time, they were celebrating. In Nairobi’s sprawling Kibera slum, where six had died earlier in clashes with police, residents poured out of their homes and cheered in the streets holding Odinga posters.
Kenya’s election commission had admitted that there had been a hacking attempt but maintained it was unsuccessful, while international observers had said there were no signs of interference with the vote.
Paul Muite, the commission’s lawyer, argued during the hearing that the integrity of the vote had been protected “as far as was humanly possible.”
By contrast, Odinga’s laywer alleged that some 5 million votes were marred by discrepancies and the forms used to record results lacked key security features such as watermarks and the necessary stamps and signatures.
Kenya, while vastly more stable than war-torn neighbors Somalia and South Sudan, remains riven by tribal rivalries that come to a head in every election cycle, largely between Kenyatta’s Kikuyu tribe and Odinga’s fellow Luos.