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Uhuru hints at changes in law to tame judges

President Uhuru Kenyatta addresses the nation on the Supreme Court ruling at State House, Nairobi, on September 21 as his deputy, Mr William Ruto, looks on. PHOTO | DENNIS ONSONG | NMG
President Uhuru Kenyatta addresses the nation on the Supreme Court ruling at State House, Nairobi, on September 21 as his deputy, Mr William Ruto, looks on. PHOTO | DENNIS ONSONG | NMG 

President Uhuru Kenyatta on Thursday hinted at major constitutional changes targeting the Judiciary, deepening his attack on the courts in wake of a Supreme Court decision that nullified his August 8 victory.

The President made the remarks in a late afternoon live TV address – his second in a day – even as the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) announced it had moved the date of the repeat presidential poll from October 17 to 26.

Mr Kenyatta instructed Parliament to make necessary legal changes, signalling the Executive’s efforts to trim powers of the Judiciary just one day after the Supreme Court made public the grounds for its September 1 decision to annul the August 8 presidential poll.

“The judgment has a potential to throw us into judicial chaos,” Mr Kenyatta said. “I urge Parliament to act with speed to protect our country from ambiguities that may arise from that judgment.”

The Constitution, however, demands that any changes that touch on the independence of the Judiciary must be taken through a referendum besides gaining a two-thirds majority support in Parliament.

On September 1, the court annulled by a majority of four judges against two Mr Kenyatta’s 1.4 million-vote win over his rival Raila Odinga.

Chief Justice David Maraga, his deputy Philomena Mwilu, Justice Isaac Lenaola and Justice Smokin Wanjala upheld Mr Odinga’s petition against Mr Kenyatta’s victory with Justices Jacton Ojwang’ and Njoki Ndung’u dissenting.

The court cited failure by the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) to, among other things, adhere to the law and regulation governing the recording and transmission of results.

The decision has opened both the Supreme Court and IEBC – the two crucial institutions in presidential polls - to attacks by government and opposition while casting a dark shadow over the repeat poll. 

Mr Kenyatta’s lawyer, Ahmednasir Abdullahi, criticised the four judges “for lowering the standard of proof required in a presidential petition”, insisting they relied on clerical errors as opposed to fundamental mistakes or grave violation of electoral regulations to arrive at the decision.

The planned trimming of the Judiciary’s powers comes after a series of attacks on the Supreme Court by the President and his supporters.

Shortly before he addressed the nation, Mr Kenyatta renewed his attacks on Supreme Court judges, accusing them of violating the Constitution.

“This (judgment) is nothing short of a coup,” he told delegates from northern Kenya. “Kenya managed to escape military coups that has afflicted many African states in the last 50 years, but now we hold a record because ours has been executed by just four people sitting in the Supreme Court,” he said, insisting that the judgment had usurped the will of 45 million Kenyans because the petitioner neither disputed the number of votes cast nor contested his vote count.

“We have reversed everything in this country by the decision of a few people. I don’t know how history will judge these gentlemen. The citizen has been told he does not have a voice ... If that is not dictatorship, then I don’t know what to say,” said Mr Kenyatta.

The Supreme Court on September 1 ordered the IEBC to conduct fresh elections in 60 days. 

Mr Odinga and his supporters maintain that they will not participate in polls organised by the IEBC as presently constituted.

Mr Kenyatta however says the repeat polls must be conducted as planned as cabinet has approved the supplementary budget for the purpose.

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