After annulling his electoral victory last month, Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta warned on Saturday that the country had a problem to “fix” with the judiciary.
Kenyatta, speaking a day after the Supreme Court canceled his victory and ordered new polls within 60 days, repeated a message from Friday that he would respect its ruling. The court on Friday said the electoral commission had committed irregularities in the vote.
Kenyatta warned the chief justice and judiciary not to interfere with the electoral commission as the country prepares for a new presidential vote.
“Who even elected you?…We have a problem and we must fix it.” He did not elaborate.
The Law Society of Kenya said in a strongly worded statement that Kenyatta, as “the head of state who under the constitution is a symbol of national unity”, should refrain from derogatory comments about the judiciary.
The decision to annul the election was unexpected and unprecedented in Africa where governments often hold sway over judges.
The president’s latest comments mark the second time since Friday’s ruling that he has criticized the judiciary in public. On Friday, during an impromptu rally in Nairobi, he accused the court of ignoring the will of the people and dismissed the chief justice’s colleagues as “wakora”, or crooks.
The lawyers’ association condemned Kenyatta’s use of the Kiswahili word, saying that the judges serving in the highest court had acted “professionally, with honor and dignity”.
“They…do not deserve the disrespectful treatment they are being shown”, the statement read.
The president’s appearances since the ruling suggest he intends to campaign rigorously for the re-run of the August 8 poll.
He said via Twitter on Saturday: “For now let us meet at the ballot.”
Attention now turns back to the election board. The court ruled that it had “failed, neglected or refused to conduct the presidential election in a manner consistent with the dictates of the constitution”.
Opposition leader Raila Odinga had petitioned the court challenging Kenyatta’s win, claiming manipulation. He now wants the electoral commission disbanded.
The commission’s chairman has promised changes in personnel ahead of the vote and invited the prosecution of any staffer found to have manipulated results.
Kenyatta’s party deputy chief whip in the Senate, Irungu Kangata, said Friday the party will use its numerical strength in parliament to stop any attempt to disband the commission.
Constitutional lawyer Bob Mkangi said the electoral commission likely will not be disbanded unless the commissioners resign or lawmakers from the ruling and opposition parties reach a negotiated settlement. Using other ways, such as forming a tribunal, would be time-consuming, he said.
“With the shortness of time it would very difficult to organize a campaign and go after these guys. It’s likely the (commission) will conduct elections as constituted,” Mkangi said.
Analysts saw the president’s latest comments on the judiciary as a worrisome development.
“It’s extremely unfortunate that Kenyatta seems to be issuing veiled threats at the judiciary,” said Murithi Mutiga, a Nairobi-based senior Africa analyst at the International Crisis Group.
“This was a tremendous moment for Kenyan democracy, where the court upheld the rule of law. Politicians should be careful not to incite the public against the judiciary.”
Kenya’s judiciary went through sweeping changes in a bid to restore confidence in the legal system after the bloodshed following the 2007 election.
Experts say the constitution adopted in 2010 enshrines protections for the judiciary against interference by the executive.