After Kenya’s High Court cancelled a contract to print ballot papers for next month's elections, President Uhuru Kenyatta took the unusual step of publicly accusing the country’s judiciary of siding with the opposition.
The opposition National Super Alliance (NASA) had filed a petition against the award of a tender for printing of ballots for the August 8th presidential election to an Arab company. NASA argued that Dubai-based Al Ghurair was associated with President Uhuru Kenyatta. Kenya's Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) had awarded the company the $24 million (27 million euro) contract.
A panel of three judges found on Friday (7/7) that the process had not been adequately transparent, violating constitutional requirements. The tender for the printing of ballots for the presidential poll will have to be repeated. Al Ghurair will still be permitted to print ballot papers for parliamentary, county and other elections being held on the same day.
Kenyatta, who is seeking a second and final five-year term, accused the court of conspiring with the opposition to delay the general elections. At an election rally in Baringo he told his followers: "We will not allow our opponents to use the courts and to intimidate the IEBC, thinking they will win using the back door."
Indignation over president's remarks
This brought about a sharp rebuke from Kenya's Chief Justice David Maraga, who on Sunday warned President Kenyatta not to undermine public confidence in the judiciary: "When political leaders cast aspersions on the administration of justice based on a misinterpretation of my statements, it has the potential to impair public confidence in our courts, and this concerns me a great deal," Maraga said
The leaders of Kenya's opposition (L-R): Musalia Mudavadi, Raila Odinga, Isaac Ruto, Kalonzo Musyoka and Moses Wetangula
Kenyatta's outburst was criticized by independent analyst Paul Akwabi, who told DW that the president's remarks against the judiciary placed the country in a bad light: "This election is so critical, not only for Kenya but for East Africa. I think he was carried away by emotions and the fact that he is also a presidential candidate." Kenyatta was in the wrong for mixing politics and the independent judiciary, "something that can take the country in a wrong direction," Akwabi said.
Tensions running high
Meanwhile, NASA, a coalition of parties led by Kenyatta's main rival Raila Odinga, claimed victory in Friday's case, one of several it has brought against the IEBC. Odinga is due to challenge Kenyatta for a second time running. This is his fourth try, having failed to win elections in 1997, 2007 and 2013. Over the weekend Odinga was briefly hospitalized for dehydration after falling ill during his campaign. Suspicions that he was suffering from food poisoning were not confirmed, quashing rumors of a deliberate attack against the opposition leader.
With tension already running high in Kenya, the opposition also alleged that there were irregularities in the electoral system. According to a recent audit by the consulting firm KPMG, 80,000 ghost voters were removed from the electoral register. But KPMG suspects that up to one million more deceased voters could still be on the register.
Warnings against violence
Kenyans will go to the polls a decade after politically motivated ethnic violence left over 1,100 people dead and 600,000 displaced, following a disputed vote in 2007. Polls in 2013 passed relatively peacefully, even though Odinga challenged the results in court.
The presidential race is predicted to be close and could swing either way, observers say. Last week the European Union warned against possible violence in the upcoming elections. Rights body, Human Rights Watch said it had documented cases of intimidation and threats.
James Shimanyula contributed to this report