The most recent elections, in 2007, gave rise to fighting that left more than 1,220 people dead [GALLO/GETTY]
Kenya's High Court has ruled that the country's next presidential and parliamentary elections should be held in March 2013 and not in August, unless the ruling coalition collapses.
The east African country's next election will come under intense scrutiny because it will be the first under a new constitution, and the first since the 2007 poll that gave rise to fighting in which more than 1,220 people were killed.
The government had proposed amending the constitution to delay the vote to December because of logistical problems, prompting petitioners to ask the High Court for a ruling.
The court ruled on Friday that the current parliament should serve its full five-year term, which ends on January 14, 2013, and that the elections should be held 60 days later.
The ruling will disappoint Kenyans who want to vote out their legislators sooner.
The court also ruled that elections could be held this year only if the ruling coalition between President Mwai Kibaki and Prime Minister Raila Odinga, created to end the violence after the 2007 election, were to collapse for any reason.
The electoral commission would then set a poll date within 60 days of the breakdown.
"We are conscious that our findings may be unpopular with a section of Kenyans who have preconceived notions about the elections," Justice Isaac Lenaola, one of three judges who made the ruling, said.
"But we hasten to remind Kenyans that our undertaking is not to ... suit popular opinion."
Controversy over ruling
Many Kenyans are eager to vote out some legislators because they consider them lazy, corrupt and greedy, and say the lawmakers, among the best-paid in the world, are a privileged group who do little to help develop the country.
Kenyan legislators voted to quadruple their salaries in 2003 as their first order of business after the election, and angered the public again during the current term by refusing to pay tax.
Analysts predicted controversy over the high court ruling.
"This will go back to court for further interpretation. I see it going through the court of appeal. It could end up in the supreme court," Kwamchetsi Makokha, a political commentator, said.
An opinion poll in October showed 53 per cent of Kenyans wanted an August election and 38 per cent a December one.
Kenya is also eagerly awaiting a decision by the International Criminal Court (ICC) on whether it will proceed to trial against six prominent Kenyans suspected of organizing the post-electoral violence.
Two of the six - Uhuru Kenyatta, finance minister and the son of the country's first president, and William Ruto, the former agriculture and higher education minister - intend to run for president in the poll.
"The court's [ICC's] ruling will introduce an additional - possibly crucial - factor into an already pivotal election," the think tank International Crisis Group said in a report this week.
Charges against the six include murder, deportation, rape, inhumane acts, persecution and torture.