President must halt attacks on judges, Raila rethink demands

Monday September 4 2017

Supreme Court judges

Youth in Kisii town demonstrate on September 4, 2017 against assaults on the Supreme Court judges. When the President starts issuing threats against the Judiciary, he is crossing a red line. PHOTO | BENSON MOMANYI | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

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One can understand President Uhuru Kenyatta’s anger with the Supreme Court’s nullification of his presidential election victory.

He is hurting, and has every right to express his unhappiness at the turn of events.

The freedom to openly speak one’s mind, and to question the performance, decisions and actions of any arm of government is one of the fundamental rights guaranteed by the Constitution.

Those rights are as open to the President as to every other person.

When one is the President, however, that freedom must be exercised with added caution.

The President, for instance, must not misuse his exalted position in a way that will be seen as bullying, threatening and intimidating other arms of government.

The President of the Republic of Kenya and Commander-in-Chief of the Defence Forces occupies a powerful position in national life.

The Executive, the Legislature and the Judiciary may be equal in theory but there is no doubt that, in reality, the President of the Republic wields more power and clout than either the president of the Supreme Court or the Speakers of the two Houses of Parliament.

All the more reason why, in relations with the other arms of government, the Head of State must act with humility and restraint.

When the President starts issuing threats against the Judiciary simply because he suffered an unfavourable court decision, he is crossing a red line.

In the first instance, it is utterly hypocritical to mobilise the Jubilee Party hordes for assaults on the Judiciary after challenging opposition leader Raila Odinga to go to court if dissatisfied with the presidential election outcome.

Mr Odinga took the advice, went to court and won.

For the losers to then turn around and start insulting and threatening judges, it is completely wrong.

The President should, in any case, be directing his ire not at the court but his highly priced lawyers — who, hopefully, will not be paid from the public purse — for failing to present a winning case.

When the President says he will deal with the courts — after, presumably, winning the repeat election — and his party mobs vow they will move to shackle the Judiciary, that is very worrying.

Jubilee came out of the General Election with a powerful majority in both the National Assembly and the Senate.

But even that will never give it the right to trample on the Constitution, take away the people’s inalienable rights and give the President dictatorial powers.

The freedom and democracy that were attained through blood, sweat and tears will never be taken away by any grouping suffering delusions that it has the mandate to restore imperial rule.

President Kenyatta would serve his cause better if he ceased attacks on the Supreme Court, called off the baying mobs and refocused his energies on a re-election campaign free of hubris, rancor and angry rants.

His public appearances since the Supreme Court ruling have presented the picture of a President who is losing it — one not fully in control of himself.

Disappointment over the ruling cannot be an excuse for one entrusted with high office to put on such shows in public. It is time to sober up.

Meanwhile, there is still the issue of a repeat election.

The Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission and its chairman Wafula Chebukati were found by the court to have committed irregularities and illegalities in their mismanagement of the elections.

In such circumstances, it is understandable that Mr Odinga would be wary of repeat elections run by individuals who might well be indicted for election offences.

The National Super Alliance campaign team must, however, bear in mind that any calls for the removal of electoral commissioners must be tempered by reality of very tight election timelines.

If Mr Chebukati and his team, including CEO Ezra Chiloba, do not do the civilised thing and resign, we might be stuck with them for a while.

And just as President Kenyatta must halt attacks on the Judiciary, Mr Odinga should not allow demands to remove Chebukati and company to take his focus away from the very real need to go out and campaign for votes.

He would do well to remember that the Supreme Court did not hand him electoral victory but just another chance to stake his claim.

[email protected] Twitter: @MachariaGaitho