In Kenya, fresh elections will take place on 17 October, the electoral commission announced after the Supreme Court nullified last month's vote. Time is tight to organize a new free and fair voting process
The landmark decision of the Supreme Court to nullify last month's presidential elections did not only change Kenya's political destiny, but also evoked various emotions among Kenyans. The court has accused the electoral board of committing "irregularities" during the recent presidential vote. The annulment last Friday marks a setback for President Uhuru Kenyatta, who has called the judges "crooks." Kenyans celebrated this unexpected victory of justice in the streets for several days. This week, the situation went back to normal since election campaigning has now started for the second time: four of the court's six justices voted to order a new election within 60 days. The political rivals, President Uhuru Kenyatta and opposition leader Raila Odinga are out again in a contest for people's votes.
Kenya: Test for democracy
In the East African country, courts have a long history of corruption and are often viewed as an extension of the government. In this context, the ruling last week was bold and stunning. "Kenya took the bull by the horns, we are a leader in this regard and many people are really proud of this development in the country," said analyst Martin Oloo in an interview with DW. The vote in Kenya is not an event, it is a process and each step is important, he added. But the electoral board failed to conduct elections according to the constitution. "It was not about winners or losers, the real winner is the spirit of constitutionalism and the rule of law," he said. "The second election now is the absolute test for democracy."
"The chairman of the electoral board announced improving the system that was faulted," said Oloo. If this does not happen, the chance of free and fair elections in three month will be small, he said, adding the Kenyan step to nullify the election only happened twice before in Ukraine and Austria, but never in Africa. There are many countries with a strongman syndrome like President Robert Mugabe in Simbabwe, Oloo said. In Rwanda, Paul Kagame recently reached 99 percent of the electoral vote.
"We do have this kind of problem on the continent, and these countries can learn from us, even the United States can learn from the courageous move of our court to start an investigation," according to Oloo.
Observers: Election free and fair
The Supreme Court's announcement even shocked the election winner, Uhuru Kenyatta.
The incumbent won the election with 54 percent of the vote, the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) had announced. But the opposition cried foul. The opposition candidate's call for a national strike triggered a heavy-handed police response that killed at least 28 people. Haunted by bloodshed following the contested 2007 election that killed more than 1,200 people, international observer missions appeared focused on maintaining order this time.
The death toll from clashes between police and protesters steadily mounting, the international election observers had declared the elections as free and fair. President Kenyatta was confident that the court would side with him, so he urged opposition leader Raila Odinga to resolve the dispute by legal means and not in the streets.
Odinga had little hope that the court would make a fair decision. His petition to overturn the vote, he said, was more an opportunity to publicize the opposition's arguments that the election was a fraud. The IEBC said Kenyatta and his Jubilee alliance garnered 1.4 million more votes than his rival Odinga. But Odinga's opposition coalition, the National Super Alliance, said results from more than one-third of the polling stations were flawed. In some cases, there were irregularities in the electronic transmission of copies of paper forms giving the results from each polling station, the opposition claims.
Precedent for African countries
"The transmission process was not done properly", said Susan Muriungi from the Konrad-Adenauer Foundation in Nairobi told DW.
"Some voting forms that were used at a basic level did not have watermarks, some were invalid and even taken off an exercise book", she added. The opposition also brought up the issue of hacking into the computer system of the electoral board. "There is a new thinking in the way the court ruled and it shows the judges independency," she said. "The next election should therefore put the electoral officials on their toes to conduct that process in a better way and avoid accusations of fraud." she added.
But it will be difficult to prepare fresh elections because the court has 21 days to announce the full judgement and the problems that were identified.
"Election observers only give an overview of the voting day and the process of voting at the polling stations," said Muriungi. The problem with this election was deeper and the ruling sets a case of precedence for other countries to follow," she argued. While every country has its own circumstances, she said, "there are also similarities in many African countries when it comes to politics.
"They can become more confident looking at this case - although it will take a long time until any African country reaches this kind of decision if we look at Kenya only being the third in the world."