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Watershed judgment

Editorial |

However distresssing, it is a well-grounded trend in two very different parts of the world. In Pakistan and Kenya, the Head of Government and State have been disqualified by the respective Supreme Courts. Given the circumstances in both countries, there can be no life in the debate on judicial intervention in governance. Less than two months after Nawaz Sharif was disqualified on corruption charges, the victory of Uhuru Kenyatta in the recent presidential election has been declared invalid with an order to hold another vote within 60 days. For Kenya, the directive to nullify the result is historic and will doubtless sharpen the contest for the presidential palace in Nairobi between Kenyatta and veteran opposition leader, Raila Odinga.

It is a watershed development in the east African nation and sets a unique precedent for the continent. While Kenyatta has called for “peace, peace, peace… that is the nature of democracy”, his pledge to “fix the judiciary” over the poll annulment is decidedly at odds with his rhetorical address to the nation. The six-judge Bench has ruled 4-2 in favour of a petition filed by Odinga, who claimed the electronic voting results were hacked and manipulated in favour of the incumbent.

Kenyatta was declared the election winner with 54 per cent of the vote, a signal of victory that has been trashed by the court. Markedly, the judiciary has neither blamed Kenyatta nor his party, but the Election Commission ~ “It has failed, neglected or refused to conduct the presidential election in a manner consistent with the dictates of the Constitution.” Implicit in that indictment is the reality in Kenya, specifically that the EC has played the President’s game.

If the judgment was greeted with whistles, song and dance, it is suggestive of the unusually independent assertion of the judiciary which has traditionally acted on the whims of the presidency. The decision has surprised many in Kenya and Africa in the wider canvas. “In the whole world, all eyes were on this Supreme Court and the judges did the right thing,” was the general refrain. “The court has set an exceptional example for all of Africa,” was the immediate response of the National Super Alliance (Nasa) coalition leader, Raila Odinga. “Our judiciary now knows they have the power.

We thank the Supreme Court for standing up for the truth.” The judiciary has pronounced its verdict even at the risk of political chaos in east Africa’s biggest economy, indeed a country with a history of disputed elections and political violence. The chief cause of surprise must be that the court took as long as it did to speak bravely and well. The judgment has no precedent anywhere in Africa; it signifies a triumph of democracy and the rule of law.