By CHRISTOPHER TORCHIA and TOM ODULA
NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) — Kenya’s Supreme Court plans to hear last-minute arguments that Thursday’s presidential election should be postponed because a free and fair vote cannot be guaranteed.
The top court, whose surprise decision to annul the Aug. 8 election over irregularities set the stage for this week’s new vote, said it will convene Wednesday morning to hear petitioners who allege that Kenya’s electoral commission is in disarray and prone to political interference.
A large number of voters would be disenfranchised because opposition leader Raila Odinga, who withdrew from the new election after challenging the first one in court, wants supporters to boycott the vote while seeking electoral reforms, the petition says.
The court hearing will occur even though Kenya’s interior ministry has declared Wednesday and Thursday to be public holidays.
Late Tuesday, the police driver of the Supreme Court’s deputy chief justice, Philomena Mwilu, was shot and seriously wounded after being assaulted by two men who arrived on a motorbike, Nairobi police and a witness said.
The motive for the attack was unclear. In September, Chief Justice David Maraga said attempts to intimidate the Supreme Court judges after they nullified the August vote have been “unlawful and savage in nature.”
Hours before the shooting of the driver, Kenyan police fired tear gas and warning shots to disperse small groups of opposition protesters in downtown Nairobi. The confrontations occurred amid bustling traffic and forced some city workers and passers-by to hurry away from clouds of tear gas.
A police officer told The Associated Press that he and his colleagues were firing blanks. Human rights activists have said police fatally shot 67 people since the results of the August election were announced.
President Uhuru Kenyatta, who was declared the winner in the August vote, wants to press ahead with Thursday’s election despite concerns about its credibility. He called the Supreme Court justices “crooks” after they nullified his re-election.
That ruling was the first time a court in Africa had overturned a presidential election, and it drew global praise as an affirmation of judicial independence. But it alarmed some Kenyans who feared it could lead to a protracted period of political instability in East Africa’s economic powerhouse, which has seen elections followed by deadly violence in the past.
Wafula Chebukati, the electoral commission chief, has said he cannot guarantee a credible election this week. Another electoral commissioner, Roselyn Akombe, has resigned, saying free and fair elections are not possible. She fled to the United States, saying she feared for her safety.
The petitioners to the Supreme Court cited Akombe’s comments about the electoral commission’s ability to conduct a credible vote in their written arguments.
It is important for the court to prevent a possible constitutional crisis by “ensuring that the fresh presidential elections are conducted in strict conformity with the constitution and applicable laws of Kenya,” the petition says.
Khelef Khalifa, a petitioner and human rights activist, said the goal is to secure a postponement of Kenya’s elections until the electoral commission is prepared to deliver a credible vote.
Ahead of the planned vote on Thursday, the European Union said it would have a reduced number of election observers, citing the tense political environment and concerns about the safety of its monitors.