Presidential Petition 2013. A closer look.

3 04 2013

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After the bungled elections in 2007 and the dark violent days that followed, Kenya embarked on a path to self-redemption and creation of public institutions whose holders were appointed through a public vetting process in order to ensure transparency. Key among these institutions was the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC), which would henceforth be charged with the responsibility of delivering free, fair, credible and transparent elections to Kenyans in a manner that was acceptable to the majority, if not all.
When the IEBC conducted the March 4, 2013 general elections and eventually announced Hon. Uhuru Kenyatta as the winning presidential candidate, the then Prime Minister, Rt. Hon. Raila Odinga, who was the closest contestant to the winner, launched a petition at the Supreme Court to challenge the results. He alleged massive irregularities during the tallying process and intimated that the failure of the electronic system set up by the IEBC to relay the results to the national tallying centre was part of a wider scheme to rig the poll in favour of Mr Kenyatta. But in its ruling on the 30th March 2013, the Supreme Court dismissed the petition and upheld the victory of Mr Kenyatta.

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In the six days that the Supreme Court was in the public eye, right from the pre-trial conference (25th and 26th March), through the hearing proper (27th, 28th and 29th March), to the delivery of the ruling on 30th March, the Kenyan public was treated to a rare occurrence in the country’s history. This was the first time the court was handling a case of much gravity and public significance. Many treated it as a true test of the level of reform and independence in the Kenyan judiciary. The president of the Supreme Court, Chief Justice Willy Mutunga, directed that the entire proceedings be aired live on national television. This by itself showed Kenyans and the world at large the level of openness to public scrutiny that the court was prepared for. In a departure from the old days where cases of such importance to the public were heard and determined behind closed doors, this was a first whereby anyone was able to follow the entire proceedings from their homes.

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But apart from the political content of the petition hearings, there was much to be observed from the whole process. All litigants in the petition were represented by the best legal personalities they could find. The public was treated to a show casing of Kenya’s best of the best in the legal fraternity. They engaged each other in healthy arguments as each tried to show the court why his/her client must win the petition. The counsel conducted themselves professionally and in a manner that met public expectations of lawyers of their calibre.
Despite the strict timelines imposed upon the court by the constitution, the court managed to issue a ruling on the matter after giving each party a fair chance to be heard. The constitution requires the court to issue a ruling on any presidential petition in 14 days from the date of filing of such petition. Despite the huge volumes of evidence provided by all parties to the petition, the six judges of the Supreme Court were able to peruse all the relevant information presented to them and make a ruling within the legal time frame.
The eventual address by the main petitioner, Mr Odinga, to the public after the ruling dismissing his petition was a sign of the level of commitment to the rule of law and constitutionalism he subscribes to. In his address, the outgoing Prime Minister said that although he was not fully contented with the ruling, he would respect it. This is a sign of the statesman that Mr Raila has been, and by extension, a sign of how fast our democracy is maturing.
In essence, the outcome of the court process, not just the ruling itself, but also the many other positive attributes that played out during and after the hearings, are a reflection of the virtues that our society has chosen to live by.

Senior Counsel Fred Ngatia for Mr Uhuru Kenyatta

Senior Counsel Fred Ngatia for Mr Uhuru Kenyatta

Senior Counsel George Oraro for Mr Raila Odinga.

Senior Counsel George Oraro for Mr Raila Odinga.

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