Kenyans await ruling in disputed election

By Edmund Blair and Humphrey Malalo, Reuters

NAIROBI–Kenya’s Supreme Court said on Saturday it would convene at 1400 GMT to rule on legal challenges to Uhuru Kenyatta’s win in a presidential election, a vote seen as a test of democracy five years after ballot disputes triggered widespread bloodshed. The country’s outgoing president called for calm over the decision that will either force a fresh election or confirm the victory of Kenya’s richest man Kenyatta, who is facing charges of crimes against humanity in the Hague.

Defeated candidate Raila Odinga says the March 4 poll was marred by technical problems and widespread rigging. Both politicians have promised to abide by the court’s final word. “The Supreme court judges are on schedule to seat at 5 p.m.,” Gladys Shollei, chief registrar of the judiciary, told reporters, adding that lawyers had been asked to be seated inside the court 15 minutes before that time. The ruling is expected to address a list of challenges to the result, so the final ruling may not come immediately. Calm voting in this year’s election, and the fact the dispute is being played out by lawyers not machete-wielding gangs, has already helped repair the image of east Africa’s largest economy. But Saturday’s ruling will be the real test of whether Kenyans trust their reformed judiciary and whether supporters of rival candidates accept the result quietly in a nation where tribal loyalties largely determine political allegiances. The U.S. ambassador to Kenya, Robert Godec, wrote on his Twitter account: “Supreme Court Historic moment for Kenya today: urge everyone to respect the court ruling and keep the peace.” Britain’s envoy also said on Twitter he expected Kenyans to react peacefully to the ruling. Paramilitary police, some on horseback, formed a security cordon around the court. Police chief David Kimaiyo has repeatedly said he would not allow public rallies. A few dozen Odinga supporters, some draped in the Kenyan flag and others waving Odinga posters, gathered near the court but were barred from advancing by security forces. Outgoing President Mwai Kibaki said in a message to mark the Christian Easter holiday weekend: “I call upon all of us to accept the ruling and maintain peace.”

Many ordinary Kenyans insist they will not allow a repeat of the violence that killed more than 1,200 people and hammered the economy following a dispute over the last election in 2007.