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Kenya Supreme Court begins delivering verdict on election

The rival camps have pledged to respect the Supreme Court's ruling . ©AFP

Nairobi (AFP) - Kenya's Supreme Court on Monday began delivering its judgement on petitions challenging the outcome of the August presidential election, with weeks of political uncertainty looming if the poll is annulled.

Deputy President William Ruto was declared winner of the tightly-fought race, scraping to victory by a margin of less than two percentage points against Raila Odinga, a veteran opposition politician now backed by the ruling party.

Odinga filed a petition to Kenya's top court last month.

He alleged fraud in the vote tallying process and claimed he had "enough evidence" to show he had in fact won the August 9 election, which ranks as one of Africa's most expensive polls.

Although voting day passed off peacefully, the results sparked angry protests in Odinga strongholds and there are fears a drawn-out dispute may deepen an economic malaise and fuel violence in a country with a history of post-poll unrest.

Both the Ruto and Odinga camps have pledged to respect the court's decision.

Judges have spent the last two weeks sifting through boxes of evidence to establish if any irregularities were substantial enough to nullify the election, as was the case with the August 2017 presidential poll, which Odinga also challenged.

Chief Justice Martha Koome began reading out the verdict shortly after midday (0900 GMT), methodically listing the court's response to the nine issues at the heart of the case.

She said the technology used by the Independent and Electoral Boundaries Commission (IEBC) met the standards of "integrity, verifiability, security and transparency".

Both the Ruto and Odinga camps have pledged to respect the court's decision.

Cost of living crisis

After 2017's annulment, the IEBC was under heavy pressure to deliver a clean poll.

But this year's outcome sparked a rift within the IEBC itself, with four of its seven commissioners accusing chairman Wafula Chebukati of running an "opaque" process.

Odinga's 72-page petition alleges that hackers broke into IEBC servers and uploaded doctored result forms, a claim dismissed by the court. 

Chebukati has denied the allegations, insisting he carried out his duties according to the law of the land despite facing "intimidation and harassment".

After assessing the transparency of the poll, the court will finally rule on whether Ruto met the constitutional threshold of 50 percent plus one of the valid votes cast.

If judges order an annulment, a fresh vote must be held within 60 days, but the run-up to a new election is likely to be fractious.

Odinga has insisted that any fresh poll must be supervised by a new chairman.The 77-year-old boycotted 2017's court-ordered re-run, accusing the IEBC of lacking credibility.

Since 2002, no presidential poll outcome in Kenya has gone uncontested, with many fearing that a prolonged electoral process and the resulting uncertainty will only worsen the country's cost of living crisis.

"We have already wasted a lot of time and money so if we go back to election we will waste (even more) time and resources," said Anne Karanja, a fruit seller in the capital Nairobi.

"I voted but I feel like I can't vote again," she told AFP, echoing the frustration felt by many Kenyans.

Voter disenchantment

At around 65 percent, turnout was sharply lower than in the August 2017 election, with observers saying it reflected growing disillusionment among citizens.

Odinga, who previously said he was cheated of victory in the 2007, 2013 and 2017 polls, has framed the legal battle as a fight "for democracy and good governance".

Ruto in turn has urged the court to throw out the petition, accusing Odinga of trying "to have another bite at the cherry through a judicially-forced re-run".

The 2017 poll saw dozens of protesters killed at the hands of police.Kenya's worst electoral violence occurred after the 2007 vote, when more than 1,100 people died in politically motivated clashes involving rival tribes.

If the court upholds the results, Ruto will become Kenya's fifth president since independence from Britain in 1963, taking the reins of a country battling inflation, high unemployment and a crippling drought.

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