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Kenya Law Society Warns Politicians Over Anti-judiciary Rhetoric

FILE - Jubilee Coalition presidential candidate Uhuru Kenyatta, 2nd left, accompanied by his running mate William Ruto, left, meets with Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) members in Nairobi, Kenya, May 29, 2017.

The Law Society of Kenya says attempts by politicians to undermine the judiciary could destabilize the country during elections next month. Candidates from the ruling Jubilee Coalition, including President Uhuru Kenyatta, have accused the courts of bias in favor of the opposition.

Law Society of Kenya President Isaac Okero says rhetoric against the courts must stop.

“They are being attacked on account of some decisions that have been made where they are sitting on a panel.... This can only undermine the integrity of the election process and the rule of law. It is only with strict adherence to the rule of law that we do not have a situation of anarchy. It is extremely important that all citizens protect the independence and the integrity of the institution,” Okero said.

On Friday, the High Court ruled the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission must re-advertise the tender for the printing of the presidential ballot papers. The court said the process was marred with irregularities and a lack of public participation. The printing of the presidential papers was to start next week (July 18).

In late June, the electoral body lost another case brought by the main opposition coalition regarding the announcement of the presidential election results. The court ruled the results announced at the polling station level are final. The commission wanted the results to be centralized and announced at the national level.

The rulings angered the ruling Jubilee Party, which accuses the judiciary of working with the opposition and interfering with the work of the electoral body.

Respect vs. cowardice

President Uhuru Kenyatta raised the issue at a campaign rally Sunday.

“I want to tell those in the courts, we have respected you, but do not think respect is cowardice. And we will not accept, we will not accept our opponents to use the courts to intimidate IEBC, thinking that they will win using the back door to get to power. There is nothing like that,” he said.

Kenyatta was speaking in the Rift Valley region, site of some of the worst post-electoral violence in 2007 and 2008. More than 1,000 people were killed nationwide amid disputes over the poll result.

Chief Justice David Maraga issued a statement Sunday calling the president’s words at the rally concerning and capable of eroding public confidence in the courts.

The ruling party spokesman did not respond to calls for comment.

Senator Mutula Kilonzo Jr. is a lawyer and an opposition member. He said the campaign trail is not the proper venue to contest court rulings.

“If they thought they had an issue, that issue should have been raised on record so that then you can attack the ruling of the court based on the argument you have presented, but by choosing not to participate in the dispute, they cannot now be heard to complain about the judgment,” said Kilonzo.

With the vote less than a month away, political observers predict a close contest between the incumbent and the lead opposition candidate, Raila Odinga.

The 2013 election had to be settled by the Supreme Court, which dismissed the opposition’s contestation over lack of evidence and declared Kenyatta as duly elected president.