Lawyers for Kenya’s opposition National Super Alliance (Nasa) leader Raila Odinga have served their 25,000-page presidential election petition papers on President Uhuru Kenyatta and the electoral commission, paving the way for the start of a rigorous legal battle for the country’s highest office.
The National Super Alliance’s legal team opted to serve President Kenyatta, the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) and its chairman Wafula Chebukati — the three respondents — through an advertisement in a local daily on Sunday.
“Take notice that a petition has been filed at the Supreme Court in Nairobi in which you have been named as respondents,” read the notice. “Copies of the petition, supporting affidavits and annexures thereto may be obtained from the offices of Murumba and Awele Advocates.”
Speaking at St Joseph’s Cathedral in Ngong, southwest of Nairobi, on Sunday, President Kenyatta urged Kenyans to let the legal battle play out while continuing with their day-to-day activities without any fear.
He said the Opposition had a right to seek the intervention of the court and asked Kenyans to allow the issue to be handled by the Judiciary.
“What is going on in court is provided for in the Constitution and, therefore, do not fear at all,” said President Kenyatta at St Joseph’s Cathedral, where he attended Mass with his deputy William Ruto. “Let us fight it out there and you (Kenyans) continue with your lives.
“There is no need for tension or fear; Kenya will still be there after elections. Leave us, as leaders, to tackle our political issues. Kenya was there before election and it will continue to exist.”
“We ask you to leave politics to politicians and concentrate on activities that will improve your lives,” added President Kenyatta.
Deputy President Ruto praised the Opposition for taking their dispute to court, saying judges were well placed to solve such issues.
“Disputes arising from elections can always be solved through the Constitution, legally and peacefully,” said Mr Ruto. “Our democracy is growing—as demonstrated by the way Kenyans voted in the recent General Election.
“Kenyans voted on issues as opposed to ethnic backgrounds.”
The President, the IEBC and Mr Chebukati, in his individual capacity as the presidential elections returning officer, now have until Thursday to file their responses.
On Sunday, IEBC said on its Twitter handle that they had not been served by Nasa and that their attempts to obtain hard copies of the documents had failed since the offices of Murumba and Awele Advocates were closed.
“Nasa is yet to serve us with the petition. Attempts to collect it from their lawyers on record proved futile as their offices were closed,” the commission tweeted at 4.30pm.
However, through a tweet, Nasa’s lawyer Paul Mwangi immediately dismissed the IEBC claim, saying all respondents had been served: “All parties to the presidential election petition have been served and have their documents. Ignore all mischievous claims.”
By 6pm, lawyers for Mr Odinga and those for the IEBC were still engaged in accusations and counter-accusations on the status of the petition.
“We were advised that you were still filing documents as at midday today (Sunday). By a copy of this letter, we are requesting the Registrar of the Supreme Court to confirm which documents are being filed long after the deadline,” said lawyer Kamau Karori in a letter.
But Mr Mwangi dismissed the claims, terming then “IEBC mischief”. He said: “Their lawyers have been served, all these other things are just IEBC mischief.”
Nasa wants the Supreme Court to, among other things, declare President Kenyatta’s election victory invalid and order fresh a presidential election. Should the court agree with Mr Odinga, the election should be held within 60 days of the court’s declaration.
The court could also order an audit of the IEBC systems, as asked by Mr Odinga, by scrutinising all result declaration forms presented by the IEBC.
It could also order a full recount of the presidential election ballots or, as it did in 2013, order votes from a sample number of constituencies counted afresh, before the lapse of the 14-day window within which it must give its ruling.
It will be a battle of senior counsels with Mr Paul Muite leading the IEBC team that has Paul Nyamodi, Kamau Karori and Wambua Kilonzo as his peer Ahmednasir Abdullahi and Fred Ngatia appear for President Kenyatta.
On Sunday, senior counsel James Orengo, the Siaya senator, and Mr Mwangi , who is Mr Odinga’s personal lawyer, said they had not decided who their lead lawyer will be. They however said the team includes Mr Paul Awele and MPs-elect Otiende Amollo, Peter Kaluma and Anthony Oluoch.
“We have filed the papers, and we are soon making decisions on who our lead counsel will be and we will make that communication formal,” said Mr Orengo by telephone.
The battle will start on Saturday when Kenyans will, for the first time in the 14-day marathon that is the presidential petition, see the seven-judge Bench of the Supreme Court and the lawyers on either side.
It is the day that the court will set the ground rules for the hearing in a pre-trial conference, which should be held on the eighth day after the filing of the petition.
Nasa presidential candidate Odinga and his running mate Kalonzo Musyoka led the coalition’s lawyers in filing their petition on Friday, just minutes to the midnight deadline.