NAIROBI — Kenya's Supreme Court said Wednesday that lapses by the country's electoral commission had compelled the justices to annul the results of last month's presidential election, in which incumbent Uhuru Kenyatta was declared the winner.
The court has earned worldwide praise for its landmark decision to void the results, hailed as the first of its kind in Africa, even as concerns about a political crisis in Kenya grow.
The justices said they have faced a barrage of threats since issuing their ruling earlier this month, and they appeared eager Wednesday to substantiate that initial ruling, as thousands of Kenyans watched the marathon court session live on television.
The justices said the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) had not verified the results before announcing them.
“The discrepancies were widespread,” Chief Justice David Maraga said. “These discrepancies affected the integrity of the elections.”
About 10,000 paper forms from polling stations, each containing the documentation of anywhere from dozens to hundreds of votes, were missing when the results were announced. Deputy Chief Justice Philomena Mwilu said the process was "like a matatu," referencing Kenya's reckless, law-defying minibuses.
The justices went on to enumerate other failings, including the electoral commission’s “contemptuous disobedience” of a court order demanding that it grant access to its computer servers so they could be scrutinized.
Mwilu said the refusal led the court to “accept claims by the opposition that the computer system had been infiltrated and compromised and the data interfered with, or that the IEBC officials interfered with the system themselves.”
The court has come under enormous pressure since its Sept. 1 decision to nullify the election. Fresh elections have been scheduled for Oct. 17, but many analysts worry that there is not enough time to prepare. Kenya is beset by bitter tribal rivalries, and many are concerned that a second election, with results that might not be accepted by the loser, could exacerbate those tensions.
Raila Odinga, the opposition candidate, has demanded that the leaders of the electoral commission resign. Kenyatta has acquiesced to the Supreme Court’s decision but lambasted the judges, calling them “thugs.”
Kenyatta won the Aug. 8 election with 54 percent of the vote to Odinga’s 45 percent, or about 1.4 million votes, according to the results announced by the electoral commission.
In the hours before Wednesday’s session, supporters of both candidates gathered in front of the court. Scuffles occurred as people tried to rush through the gates of the court, and police fired tear gas near the crowd.
To Odinga’s supporters, the justices are heroes for their willingness to stand up to the government. But Kenyatta supporters are irate and marched in front of the Supreme Court building this week to protest the annulment of the election.
Maraga said at a news conference Tuesday that the justices have been receiving “aggressive” threats since they issued their ruling.