NAIROBI, Kenya -- The presidential election is less than three weeks away, yet a major question that could decide the outcome still hangs in the balance: should two top candidates accused of committing grave crimes be allowed to run?
The two candidates are Uhuru Kenyatta, whose father was Kenya's first president, and his running mate, William Ruto. They have been charged with crimes against humanity by the International Criminal Court, in connection with the violence that erupted after Kenya's last election, in 2007, when more than 1,000 people died.
Several nonprofit organizations have petitioned the courts to bar Mr. Kenyatta and Mr. Ruto from the race, arguing that they do not live up to the requirements established in Kenya's new Constitution, which calls for public officials to have integrity.
But a Kenyan court on Friday declined to intervene in the hotly-contested presidential race, saying it did not have the jurisdiction to decide whether the politicians should be disqualified.
"The High Court lacks jurisdiction to deal with a question relating to the election of a president," the judges said in a statement read to a crowded courtroom, according to the BBC. "This is an issue that is within the exclusive jurisdiction of the Supreme Court."
It is not clear what is going to happen next. The International Center for Policy and Conflict, one of the groups that had filed the suit, indicated Friday that it was ready to pursue the matter. "For sure, we are ready for Supreme Court engagement," it said.
But the presidential election is set for March 4. Several analysts predicted that the Supreme Court might not hear the case before then, meaning Mr. Kenyatta and Mr. Ruto would be free to run.
John Githongo, a former government official in Kenya who now runs a nonprofit organization, said he was not surprised by the ruling.
"This shows we don't have an activist or adventurous judiciary," he said. "We can't expect them to put themselves in the line of fire."
Kenya's judiciary is considered to have improved vastly in recent years; before it was widely viewed as corrupt, inept and beholden to the president. But several analysts said the new courts were still reluctant to interject themselves into high-level politics, which are ethnically-tinged and often explosive, as demonstrated by the mayhem unleashed by the last major election.
Many Kenyans fear that if the Supreme Court now disqualifies Mr. Kenyatta or Mr. Ruto, their supporters might protest violently and lash out at members of the ethnic groups of other politicians.
The new Kenyan constitution, passed by a referendum in 2010, emphasizes that public officials must have integrity, but the wording is often vague.
"The guiding principles of leadership and integrity include," it reads, "selection on the basis of personal integrity, competence and suitability, or election in free and fair elections."
The other front-runner in the presidential race, Raila Odinga, the current prime minister, said on Friday that he welcomed the court's decision not to get involved.
"I have repeatedly said that my main competitor should have the opportunity to face me in a free and fair election whose outcome is determined by the people of Kenya," Mr. Odinga said.
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.