August 8, 2017: an eagerly anticipated day in Eastern Africa. Kenya’s general election had just taken place; the country breathlessly awaited its results. Presidential challenger Raila Odinga ran against the incumbent, President Uhuru Kenyatta, who had occupied Kenya’s highest post for the previous four years. Incumbent president Kenyatta was declared the election winner by a margin of 1.4 million votes.
However, by September 1, 2017, Kenya became the first African country in history to order a re-vote for a presidential election, after the opposition filed a legal challenge to the outcome. Presented with claims of malpractice within the vote transmission process, as well as the possibility of electoral commission I.T. system manipulations by Kenyatta supporters, the Kenyan Supreme Court issued a ruling calling for a reelection set for October 17, 2017. Chief Justice David Maraga delivered the decision, which stated that the election did not operate within national constitutional bounds. This ruling was supported by four of the six justices. The decision was met with understandable excitement from Odinga supporters, many of whom celebrated outside the court building upon the verdict. Given the national public pressure, Kenyatta agreed to cooperate with the ruling despite continuing to profess his innocence. Interestingly, international monitors from the EU, the African Union, and the US suspect no substantial illegalities during the election.
Odinga is pushing for a reelection, but only if substantive investigation and changes are undertaken in order to ensure the legitimacy of the electoral commission. He and his supporters advocate for the removal of several election commissioners, as well as direct access to the electronic voting system in order to better monitor the election results. Odinga fears the vote will not change if a reelection were to happen without such measures. For the reelection to work, two separate electronic systems used in voting would need to be reinstalled by OT-Morpho, the French digital security company which created the systems’ technology. This likely cannot be completed by the targeted October 17 date. Odinga also claims that the reelection must be between all eight primary candidates, not only between himself and Kenyatta.
Many already laud the Kenyan Supreme Court’s decision as a historical moment in both national and global politics–and for good reason. The verdict demonstrated the ability of the country’s judiciary to act independently and justly despite the controversial position it took, which remains disputed for increasing tensions and uncertainty in Kenya. Despite this targeted national anti-corruption effort, doubts remain about whether Kenya’s electoral system can deliver a just reelection, especially under current deadlines. Anti-corruption efforts mean little when coupled with a lack of governmental infrastructure. While the long-term goals of credibility and a peacefully established president should drive the reelection, election commission officials must also consider the state of Kenya’s highly-charged political scene. Already, at least 28 people have died in protests surrounding the 2017 election results. Such displays of public violence invoke the 2007 presidential election, which ended in unnecessary mass violence. Approximately 1,200 people died in confrontations following the disputed presidential vote. As Kenya’s electoral commission attempts to address Odinga’s requests in time for the general reelection, people around the world are watching to see if this election will continue the previous national electoral narrative.
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