Kenya’s vote rul­ing could in­flu­ence other na­tions

Lesotho Times - - Africa -

JOHANNESBURG — Few ex­pected the land­mark de­ci­sion by Kenya’s top court to in­val­i­date the Aug. 8 elec­tion vic­tory by Pres­i­dent Uhuru Keny­atta and or­der a new vote, an ex­tra­or­di­nary turn­around that some ob­servers be­lieve could pos­i­tively re­ver­ber­ate across Africa and even be­yond.

The role of the courts as a re­course for those who sus­pect an elec­tion was tainted by fraud or other prob­lems is meant to bol­ster the demo­cratic process, but many judges can be sub­ject to po­lit­i­cal pres­sure and the temp­ta­tion to fa­vor per­ceived sta­bil­ity over un­cer­tainty. The fact that Kenya’s Supreme Court bucked the trend on Fri­day shows in­de­pen­dence in the ju­di­cial sys­tem of the East African eco­nomic power that has been in ques­tion in the past.

“In the African con­text, it’s very rare to see a court rul­ing against the in­cum­bent even when pro­cesses are more or less free and fair. The state ma­chin­ery usu­ally tends to fa­vor who­ever is in charge and rule against the op­po­si­tion,” said Yarik Turi­an­skyi, a gover­nance ex­pert at the South African In­sti­tute of In­ter­na­tional Af­fairs, a re­search in­sti­tute based in Johannesburg.

“I think it cre­ates a lot of ex­pec­ta­tions for the re­gion, for the con­ti­nent, send­ing out a very pos­i­tive ex­am­ple,” Turi­an­skyi said. “And then next time some­thing like this hap­pens, ev­ery­body will be men­tion­ing this ex­am­ple and hop­ing that due process will also be fol­lowed up.”

Such ex­pec­ta­tions will face a tough test, par­tic­u­larly in coun­tries that have more state con­trol than Kenya, whose 2010 con­sti­tu­tion is con­sid­ered to be among the most pro­gres­sive in Africa de­spite the eth­nic al­le­giances and per­son­al­ity pol­i­tics that over­shadow its democ­racy.

In An­gola, the op­po­si­tion UNITA party and a smaller op­po­si­tion group are con­test­ing pro­vi­sional re­sults from the 23 Au­gust 2017 vote that gave the win to the rul­ing MPLA party, which said De­fense Min­is­ter Joao Lourenco will suc­ceed Pres­i­dent Jose Ed­uardo dos San­tos af­ter his 38-year rule. An­gola’s elec­toral panel says it is as­sess­ing op­po­si­tion com­plaints that le­gal pro­ce­dures were flouted in a coun­try where hu­man rights groups have long ac­cused the gov­ern­ment of si­lenc­ing dis­sent­ing voices.

Some African na­tions face . more se­vere chal­lenges, even if votes are held more of­ten and in many cases are seen to be less vul­ner­a­ble to ma­nip­u­la­tion than in past decades.

Ten­sions are grow­ing in Congo af­ter of­fi­cials failed to or­ga­nize elec­tions late last year. A deal bro­kered by the Catholic church calls for the vote to be held this year, but Congo’s elec­toral com­mis­sion has in­di­cated that the dead­line will not be met.

Kenya’s sur­prise court rul­ing came af­ter long­time op­po­si­tion can­di­date Raila Odinga al­leged that last month’s vote was ma­nip­u­lated. He chal­lenged the re­sults de­spite in­tense pres­sure from busi­ness lead­ers and oth­ers to con­cede de­feat and let the coun­try re­sume nor­mal life.

The court’s de­ci­sion in Odinga’s fa­vor, un­prece­dented in Africa, was all the more sur­pris­ing be­cause judges threw out his chal­lenge af­ter he lost to Keny­atta in the 2013 elec­tion.

Fri­day’s court rul­ing that there were “il­le­gal­i­ties and ir­reg­u­lar­i­ties” in last month’s elec­tion calls for a re-run within 60 days. It is, elec­tion ex­perts say, an op­por­tu­nity for Kenya to get it right this time.

Kenya’s elec­tion com­mis­sion should or­ga­nize the new elec­tion in a way that “pro­motes trans­parency, ac­count­abil­ity and is ver­i­fi­able,” and po­lit­i­cal par­ties as well as the gov­ern­ment and se­cu­rity forces should en­sure a cred­i­ble, peace­ful process, said the Na­tional Demo­cratic In­sti­tute, a non-profit group based in Washington.

In his first pub­lic com­ments af­ter the court rul­ing, Keny­atta crit­i­cized the de­ci­sion but said he re­spects it and called for calm in a coun­try where some elec­tions have been fol­lowed by deadly vi­o­lence.

But in com­ments since then, Keny­atta has called the court’s judges “crooks” and ac­cused them of over­turn­ing the will of the peo­ple, which has alarmed some ob­servers who see the state­ments as an at­tack on ju­di­cial in­de­pen­dence. There are rare ex­am­ples of African courts step­ping in and chang­ing the course of an elec­tion in the past.

The 2010 pres­i­den­tial elec­tion in Ivory Coast, where some 3,000 peo­ple were killed af­ter then-pres­i­dent Lau­rent Gbagbo re­fused to con­cede de­feat, was an ex­am­ple of how things can go wrong when state in­sti­tu­tions are sidestepped or sub­ject to ma­nip­u­la­tion. The elec­tion com­mis­sion had de­clared op­po­si­tion leader Alas­sane Ou­at­tara as the win­ner, but the head of the coun­try’s con­sti­tu­tional coun­cil ruled for Gbagbo. Ou­at­tara even­tu­ally be­came pres­i­dent, and Gbagbo was ar­rested af­ter in­ter­na­tional forces in­ter­vened.

Else­where in Africa, some op­po­si­tion lead­ers have ex­pressed faith in in­de­pen­dent courts as a po­ten­tial source of re­form.

In Zam­bia, once-praised demo­cratic in­sti­tu­tions have come un­der scru­tiny since Pres­i­dent Edgar Lungu was re-elected last year in a dis­puted con­test. Trea­son charges were re­cently dropped against main op­po­si­tion leader Hakainde Hichilema. On Thurs­day dur­ing a visit to South Africa, Hichilema said Zam­bia needs an in­de­pen­dent elec­toral com­mis­sion “if democ­racy is to be re­sus­ci­tated.” — AP

Kenyan op­po­si­tion leader Raila Odinga ad­dresses a crowd of his sup­port­ers in the Kib­era area of nairobi, Kenya last Satur­day.

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