Go to the Supreme Court, rules High Court on petition challenging Kenyatta presidential bid

Kenya’s High Court has said it has no jurisdiction to determine matters related to the upcoming presidential election. This decision, in effect, allows Deputy Prime Minister Uhuru Muigai Kenyatta and former Cabinet Minister William Samoei Ruto to run for president and deputy president come March 4.

In a unanimous decision, a five judge bench ruled Friday that the Supreme Court has “original and exclusive” jurisdiction over presidential election matters. The judges said that this was not restricted to determining petitions arising from challenges to the results of a presidential election, but also included pre-election matters.

“It is therefore clear from the foregoing any question of the qualification or disqualification of a person who has been duly nominated to run for president can only be dealt by the Supreme Court,” said Judge Hellen Omondi as she read part of the judgement to the hall packed with lawyers, journalists, some of the petitioners, and ordinary citizens. Most of the country’s television stations broadcast the reading of the judgement live.

The question of whether Kenyatta and Ruto are qualified to be presidential and deputy presidential candidates, respectively, was one of the declarations five petitioners had asked the High Court judges to make during a hearing held on February 6.

All five judges took turns reading the judgement, which took more than two hours to complete. In addition to Judge Omondi, the other judges on the panel were Principal Judge of the High Court Amraphael Mbogholi Msagha, Luka Kimaru, Pauline Nyamweya, and George Kimondo Kanyi.

Principal Judge Msagha said the judges were aware of the diverse opinions, both Kenyan and foreign, expressed on the question of whether Kenyatta and Ruto should pursue their ambitions for high office.

“We assure Kenyans that our judgement has not been influenced by that discourse,” Judge Msagha told the packed hall as he read part of the judgement. The judges also ordered that the petitioners pay the cost of the case.

“Today marks the official death of one of the chapters in the constitution. That is Chapter Six,” said lawyer Suyianka Lempaa, referring the chapter of the constitution that deals with leadership and integrity standards. Lempaa is the lawyer for one of the petitioners, the International Center for Policy and Conflict. He said he intends to appeal the judges’ decision to award the cost of the case to the petitioners and will discuss with his client whether they will take their petition to the Supreme Court.

“We’re happy the court upheld our position,” said Nani Mungai, one of the lawyers representing the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission, which was one of the respondents in the case.

Prime Minister Raila Odinga said in a statement that he respects and welcomes the High Court judgement.

“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,” said Odinga, who is also a presidential candidate. Odinga has been leading in opinion polls with Kenyatta holding second position.

A full version of the decision can be read here.