Voting Irregularities in Kenya Election Are Confirmed

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NAIROBI, Kenya -- The landmark legal challenge to Kenya's presidential election wrapped up on Friday, and the last bits of evidence confirmed what many observers had suspected from the beginning: there were definitely voting irregularities, but were they big enough to change the outcome?

Earlier this month, Kenya's election commission announced that Uhuru Kenyatta, a son of Kenya's first president, had won 50.07 percent of the vote, narrowly avoiding a runoff and clinching the presidency by a few thousand ballots.

But the second-place finisher, Prime Minister Raila Odinga, cried foul, saying the voted had been rigged, and he promptly filed a petition in front of Kenya's newly reformed Supreme Court, asking for the election to be nullified.

On Friday morning, the Supreme Court released results from a re-tallying of votes from a sampling of polling places. The recount showed that indeed there were some discrepancies in the vote totals from a handful of polling places, and that in some areas there were no official forms backing up the numbers the election commission used.

But Mr. Kenyatta's legal team played down the mistakes. "There is no mischief," said Fred Ngatia, Mr. Kenyatta's lawyer.

He chalked up the discrepancies to human fallibility, saying, "Understandably, our young brothers and sisters across the country conducting this election on our behalf may have made one or two clerical errors."

But Mr. Odinga's lawyers staunchly disagree. They have claimed there was a conspiracy to rig the election, and they have argued that because Mr. Kenyatta skirted a runoff by such a tiny margin, some 8,000 votes out of more than 12 million, the errors that have been discovered are enough to mandate a new election.

"You cannot rely on the results," George Oraro, Mr. Odinga's lawyer, told the court on Friday. He said the sample recount revealed "grave errors."

Kenya's Supreme Court, a panel of five men and one woman in green robes, said it would issue a decision on Saturday, preferably before dark. The justiceshave been holding hearings for several days on a number of election complaints and legal issues, including questions about the voter rolls and whether to include rejected ballots in the total number of votes cast.

"We have a mountain of stuff to do," Chief Justice Willy Mutunga said on Friday. "It's going to be very, very tough for us."

Many Kenyans are anxious about what the reaction will be. If the court upholds Mr. Kenyatta's win, will Mr. Odinga's supporters riot like they did in 2007, when Mr. Odinga ran for president and lost amid widespread evidence of vote rigging? That disputed election set off ethnic clashes that killed more than 1,000 people and led to nationwide soul-searching and some important reforms, like the new Supreme Court.

But if the court rules against Mr. Kenyatta and orders a runoff or a new election, what will his passionate supporters do? Mr. Kenyatta has been charged by the International Criminal Court with crimes against humanity, accused of using his vast family fortune to bankroll death squads during the election chaos of 2007 and early 2008.

So far, this election cycle has been peaceful, partly because of a widespread public education campaign and entreaties by politicians like Mr. Odinga to settle grievances in the courts, not the streets.

On Friday, The Standard newspaper, in its editorial, urged Kenyans to remain calm, whatever the ruling was.

"It is not in doubt that this is a prayerful and God-fearing nation," the paper wrote. "There is no better Easter 2013 gifts that all Kenyans would much rather have than peace and a unified nation."

world

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.


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