Last Friday’s landmark Supreme Court ruling, annulling the 2017 presidential election results in Kenya, has taken many by surprise. Hopes were justifiably measured that the court would order a fresh poll for the presidential vote. It is a significant flexing of muscle on the independent judiciary’s part and a welcome disruption of the growing normalisation of electoral irregularities.
The court ruled that the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) must conduct a fresh presidential election poll within 60 days of September 1, in strict adherence to the law. The electoral commission has announced on Monday that the new poll will take place on October 17. While both parties have welcomed the ruling, the tone with which they have articulated this acceptance will make the next six weeks very interesting, and possibly tense.
The National Super Alliance (NASA) Coalition, led by Raila Odinga, stated that a new Kenya has been born and that the ruling is a first step in ensuring electoral justice in Kenya. They have called for the resignation of IEBC officials as well as prosecution for criminal charges, the view being that they cannot be entrusted with conducting the rerun, given the previous irregularities.
Meanwhile, President Uhuru Kenyatta urged peace in his first address after the ruling but adopted problematic rhetoric when addressing supporters in Nairobi and Nakuru, referring to the Chief Justice and the Supreme Court bench as “wakora” – Swahili for crooks or vagabonds. He further asserted that after the rerun, the judiciary “will need to be fixed”, a statement widely viewed as a dangerous attempt to cast doubt on the independence of the court.
In the coming weeks, Kenyans and the world alike will have a hankering for insights and facts, a key question being what comes next and whether the outcome of the next poll will be any different.
As both parties go back on the campaign trail, they face an uphill task of convincing their supporters who are eligible voters to commit their time, energy and even resources to exercise their democratic right in this unprecedented dispensation.
One of the top issues is whether the IEBC, in its current form, can be entrusted with organising and executing the presidential election rerun. The NASA Coalition has stated in no uncertain times that they do not have faith in the electoral body and that the sound course of action on the commission’s part is either resignation of top officials or criminal prosecution.
It is expected that NASA will be unrelenting in its calls for an overhaul within the commission. This, however, will be met with questions about the feasibility of this scenario, given that 60 days is a rather short time to form a new team and prepare for the rerun. For his part, President Kenyatta has insisted that the IEBC, as is and under the leadership of the current Chairman Wanyonyi Wafula Chebukati, will conduct the rerun.
Also in question is the results transmission system, and whether it would have been sufficiently audited before the next vote. The court found that “there were irregularities and illegalities inter alia, in the transmission of results”. Raila Odinga, in his announcement that he would be filing a petition to the Supreme Court, had said that the August 8 poll and its resulting tallies had provided the nation with “a computer generated presidency”. Resolving the question around the integrity of the electoral management system will be crucial, particularly to avoid a scenario where the same irregularities are claimed at the next poll.
As both parties go back on the campaign trail, they face an uphill task of convincing their supporters who are eligible voters to commit their time, energy and even resources to exercise their democratic right in this unprecedented dispensation. Given that many will probably have to take time off work or travel to vote, especially those living in urban centres but are registered in rural areas, it remains to be seen if the 19.6 million registered voters will eventually turn out at the same rate as the August 8 election.
It may also be that contenders for other elective posts who were defeated in the previous election will present petitions to lower courts. Those with contentions have one week from September 4 to file their cases. Opinion is already divided within the legal fraternity on whether the Supreme Court ruling on the presidential election will open the floodgates of litigation for other elective positions. We can expect that TV and radio shows, op-ed columns and social media will be inundated with all manner of commentary as the excitement continues to mount.
As was the case in the pre-election period, a new wave of fake news will emerge to satiate the appetite for information. There are reports indicating that fake news is already being disseminated with the aim of tarnishing the reputations of the Supreme Court judges.
Social media and the rich political discourse among citizens therein will retain significance during this time, as a space for counter-narratives, critique and scrutiny. The questioning on social media, particularly on Twitter, of the unfolding anomalies in how the election results were streamed and the deviations from stated procedures, was critical in retaining momentum to seek justice. It was also a site of humour and much-needed laughter to cope with the tensions that accompanied the election period, and that spirit is likely to be maintained.
On the one hand, the nullification of the presidential election is a great win for Kenyans. On the other hand, the rerun will make a significant dent in the taxpayers’ already strained coffers. The cost of conducting a fresh poll will dominate discussions in coming weeks.
The euphoric sense that justice was delivered will likely ebb and flow as the uncertainties of the next 60 days contend for Kenyans’ attention and ultimately, turn out for the next vote. Whatever the outcome, history was made on September 1, and hopefully, that will encourage citizens to ensure that it holds. Vigilance and voting could perhaps be the mantra for the days to come.
Nanjira Sambuli is a researcher, policy analyst and advocacy strategist interested in and working on understanding the unfolding impacts of ICT adoption and how those impact governance, innovation, entrepreneurship and societal culture, with a keen focus on gender implications. She is currently the Digital Equality Advocacy Manager at the Web Foundation, where she leads advocacy efforts to promote digital equality in access to and use of the Web.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.