Kenya's president suspends senior election officials who disowned his win


FILE PHOTO: Kenya's President William Ruto looks on during his swearing-in ceremony at Moi International Stadium in Nairobi, Kenya September 13, 2022. REUTERS/Baz Ratner/File Photo

NAIROBI (Reuters) - Kenya's President William Ruto has suspended four election commissioners who disowned his win in an August election and formed a panel to investigate if they should be removed, the presidency said on Friday.

The move has opened a new battle front between the government and the opposition in East Africa's biggest economy and comes after the national assembly asked Ruto to form a tribunal against Commissioners Juliana Cherera, Justus Nyang'aya, Irene Masit and Francis Wanderi.

Raila Odinga, the veteran opposition leader who narrowly lost the August election, rejected Ruto's action against the dissenting commissioners.

"They (Ruto's government) have started a scheme to remove the four who stood for justice," Odinga said on Friday and accused Ruto of trying to seize control of the management of the next election at the cost of acting on the promises he made to Kenyans.

"They want to appoint their own members of the commission to carry out their rigging in 2027," Odinga said, vowing to hold public rallies to consult with Kenyans on the next steps.

Ruto's office did not respond immediately when Reuters sought a comment on the accusation.

The four had held a parallel news conference on Aug. 15 to say they could not be party to the results that were being announced live on television by the chairman and two other commissioners.

The dispute proceeded to the Supreme Court, which upheld the election of Ruto and rejected the arguments advanced by the four about the tallying process being opaque.

The court found that a "boardroom rupture" between the commissioners had undermined public confidence, but it was not enough to invalidate the election.

It, however, called for reforms in the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC). The IEBC was not immediately available for a comment on Friday.

Neither the four commissioners, nor the opposition which is backing them, participated in the parliamentary inquiry into their conduct, protesting that it amounted to being tried in a "kangaroo court".

Cherera, who is the vice chair of the IEBC, and commissioner Nyang'aya did not respond immediately when Reuters sought comment. Wanderi and Masit were not immediately available for comment.

(Reporting by George Obulutsa and Ayenat Mersie; Writing by Duncan Miriri; Editing by Arun Koyyur)

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