News / Africa

Kenyan High Court Rules on Election Dates

Young Kenyan wears shirt bearing name of ICC Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo in Angatta Barrioko, where there was post-election violence, April 2010 (file photo).
Young Kenyan wears shirt bearing name of ICC Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo in Angatta Barrioko, where there was post-election violence, April 2010 (file photo).

Kenya’s High Court has ruled that Kenyans should vote in presidential and parliamentary elections by March, 2013, which is 60 days after the end of the current parliament's five-year term.

But the much-awaited election's exact date, which was contested due to requirements in the country’s new constitution, remains undecided.

The court also left open the possibility that Kenyans could line up to vote any time in 2012, so long as there is a signed agreement between the president and prime minister to dissolve parliament. According to the justices, such an election would have to be held within 60 days of dissolution.

The ruling follows months of petitions and arguments over the exact date, and, in issuing the decree, Justice Isaac Lenaola acknowledged that not all Kenyans might agree with it.

"We are conscious that our findings may be unpopular with a section of Kenyans who have perceived notions about the elections," said Lenaola. "But we hasten to remind Kenyans that our undertaking is not to write or [override] the constitution to suit popular opinion. Our duty is to interpret the constitution in a manner that remains faithful to its objectives."

The new constitution says general elections are to take place on the second Tuesday of August every five years. But the clause in question has been interpreted to mean that parliament's current term must be respected, and that the August date kicks in for the following elections.

The date has become a symbol of sorts for how Kenyans gauge whether or not the government is serious about implementing massive political reforms outlined in the new constitution.

The constitution was adopted in August 2010, more than two years after the country erupted in ethnic violence following the bitterly-disputed 2007 presidential poll. More than 300,000 people were displaced in the violence, and some 1,300 others killed.

With the help of mediator and former U.N. chief Kofi Annan, presidential rivals Mwai Kibaki and Ralia Odinga forged a power-sharing government that has held together despite recurring tensions.

George Wainaina, chairman of the National Council of Non-Governmental Organizations, says he thinks the High Court may have been swayed by politicians who wanted to hang onto office for as long as they could.

"To be honest with you, I think the judgment to some extent has an element of politics in it," said Wainaina. "I would definitely have thought that the constitution, or the people who are working on the constitution, must have looked into this situation and set it for August of this year."

Charles Nyachae, chairman of the Constitutional Implementation Commission, which last year announced that general elections would be held on August 14, said he is satisfied with today's ruling.

"As far as I’m concerned, what was important was that the court addresses the issues from the perspective of the constitution, which they have done," he said. "If in the process by reason of the result of their judgment, politicians find themselves with additional time in parliament, good luck to them."

The International Criminal Court has indicted six prominent Kenyans for their alleged planning of the 2007-2008 post-election violence. The court is currently reviewing their cases.

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