Kenya’s Supreme Court on Monday upheld William Ruto’s victory in the Aug. 9 presidential election, ending weeks of uncertainty as weary citizens expressed relief at the peaceful conclusion of a drawn-out political process.
“This is a unanimous decision. The petitions are hereby rejected, as a result of which we declare the first defendant (Ruto) elected President,” said the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, Marta Kume.
The verdict dealt a blow to challenger Raila Odinga, who claimed fraud and filed a petition against the results of a poll that saw Deputy President Ruto win by less than two percentage points in a tight race.
While voting day passed peacefully, observers feared the contested result could spark violence in the country, which has a history of post-vote unrest.
Ruto made a conciliatory note, promising to extend a “brotherly hand” to his rivals, including Odinga, a seasoned opposition leader now backed by the ruling party.
“I extend the hand of brotherhood to all my competitors and all their supporters. We are not enemies, we are Kenyans,” Ruto, 55, said in a speech after the verdict.
“Our elections and the judiciary won.”
Ruto will be sworn in on September 13, becoming Kenya’s fifth president since independence from Britain in 1963 and taking over the reins of a country plagued by inflation, high unemployment and a devastating drought.
As Ruto’s supporters celebrated, Odinga, 77, said he respected the decision but disagreed with its content.
“We have always stood for the rule of law and the constitution. In this regard, we respect the opinion of the court, although we strongly disagree with their decision today, ”the statement says.
“We don’t want trouble”
The announcement of the results last month sparked angry protests in Odinga’s strongholds, but there were no signs of violence on Monday.
At his coastal bastion, Kisumu, messages calling for peace were plastered on the walls and pinned to poles as police patrolled the streets.
“We don’t want trouble because we realized that we are the ones who are suffering,” said Nelima Atieno, a second-hand clothing dealer.
Minibus driver Kevin Omolo echoed her point, telling AFP: “We don’t want people to demonstrate.”
“We cannot change the verdict, although it is painful.”
Judges have spent the past two weeks sifting through boxes of evidence to determine whether any irregularities were significant enough to invalidate the election, as was the case with the August 2017 presidential election, which Odinga also contested.
Kume said the technology used by the Independent and Electoral Boundary Commission (IEBC) meets standards of “integrity, verifiability, security and transparency.”
Any “violations were not of such magnitude as to affect the final results of the presidential election,” she said, dismissing all claims by the complainants.
Odinga’s 72-page petition claimed that hackers hacked into IEBC’s servers and uploaded fake results forms, but the court dismissed the claim.
“We just need jobs”
In several cities, the verdict sparked celebration among Ruto’s supporters, who cheered and banged plastic buckets.
“I am full of joy,” said Hassan Barre, a ruto voter in the northeastern city of Garissa.
“We know that life for Kenyans will get better… all those who are at the bottom will rise. Businesses will thrive and food prices will drop.”
In Nairobi, stony-faced supporters of Odinga expressed their disappointment, and a group of women told AFP: “Not all of us are happy.”
But with the economy in the doldrums, many Kenyans are relieved to see that the political drama is over and business can pick up again.
“This announcement allows us to move on (in our lives),” said Caroline, a 30-year-old metropolitan florist.
“We just need a job,” she told AFP.
Ben Hunter, an African analyst with risk intelligence group Verisk Maplecroft, said in a note that any protests were unlikely to lead to prolonged unrest.
“The unanimity of the judgment and the ongoing economic crisis will dampen the appetite for conflict,” he said.
Despite losing the presidential election, Odinga’s Azimio La Umoja-One Kenya coalition boasts a slim majority in the lower house of parliament, and Ruto launches an offensive with charm to win the support of a dozen independent MPs.
Since 2002, no Kenyan presidential poll result has remained unchallenged, with Odinga previously claiming he was cheated into winning the 2007, 2013 and 2017 polls.
In a 2017 poll, dozens of protesters were killed by police.
The worst election violence in Kenya came after the 2007 vote, when more than 1,100 people died in politically motivated clashes involving rival tribes.