By George Obulutsa
NAIROBI (Reuters) – Kenya’s chief justice warned President Uhuru Kenyatta on Sunday not to undermine public confidence in the judiciary, in an unusually sharp exchange between the two men less than a month before national elections are due.
Kenyatta had earlier responded to a court victory for the opposition against Kenya’s Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) by cautioning against any use of the court process to delay the elections.
“They are taking us for fools,” he told an election rally in the western county of Baringo, referring to the judiciary.
“I want to tell those in courts, we have respected you. But do not think respect is cowardice. And we will not allow our opponents to use the courts and to intimidate the IEBC, thinking they will win using the back door.”
Chief Justice David Maraga released a statement a few hours later, saying: “When political leaders cast aspersions on the administration of justice based on a misinterpretation of my statements, it has the potential to impair public confidence in our courts, and this concerns me a great deal.”
Memories are still fresh in Kenya of the violent clashes that killed more than 1,200 people following a disputed election in 2007. Some fear a repeat following the Aug. 8 polls in which Kenyatta is seeking a second and final five-year term.
Kenyans are also due to choose legislators and local representatives for the first time since 2013, when the elections passed peacefully after the opposition challenged the results in court.
The opposition has already brought a flurry of cases against the electoral commission, including the one settled on Friday when the high court ruled that contract to print ballot papers for the presidential poll had not been awarded transparently.
Kenyatta’s chief rival is veteran opposition leader Raila Odinga, the head of the National Super Alliance, who was also the opposition candidate in both 2007 and 2013.
A spokesman for Odinga said he had been hospitalized on Sunday with a suspected case of mild food poisoning.
(Additional reporting by Humphrey Malalo; Writing by Katharine Houreld; Editing by Catherine Evans)