Kenya's Supreme Court declares presidential vote invalid, calls for new poll

NAIROBI, Sept 1 (Reuters) - Kenya's Supreme Court nullified President Uhuru Kenyatta's election win citing irregularities on Friday and ordered a new poll within 60 days after last month's voting was followed by protests and sporadic violence that killed at least 28 people.

The decision to cancel the result, the first of its kind in Kenya, sets up a new race for the presidency between Kenyatta, 55, and veteran opposition leader Raila Odinga, 72.

East Africa's biggest economy has a history of disputed elections. A row over the 2007 poll, which Odinga challenged after being declared loser, was followed by weeks of ethnic bloodshed in which more than 1,200 people were killed.

RELATED: Kenyans celebrate after presidential result is declared invalid

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Kenyans celebrate after presidential result is declared invalid
Supporters of an opposition leader Raila Odinga celebrate in Mathare slum after President Uhuru Kenyatta's election win was declared invalid by a court in Nairobi, Kenya, September 1, 2017. REUTERS/Siegfried Modola
Police look on as supporters of opposition leader Raila Odinga celebrate after President Uhuru Kenyatta's election win was declared invalid by a court in Nairobi, Kenya, September 1, 2017. REUTERSThomas Mukoyaolice
A supporter of an opposition leader Raila Odinga celebrates in Mathare slum after President Uhuru Kenyatta's election win was declared invalid by a court in Nairobi, Kenya, September 1, 2017. REUTERS/Siegfried Modola
Supporters of an opposition leader Raila Odinga celebrate in Kibera slum after President Uhuru Kenyatta's election win was declared invalid by a court in Nairobi, Kenya, September 1, 2017. REUTERS/Thomas Mukoya
Opposition leader Raila Odinga reacts as he leaves the supreme court after President Uhuru Kenyatta's election victory was declared invalid in Nairobi, Kenya September 1, 2017. REUTERS/Baz Ratner
Supporters of an opposition leader Raila Odinga celebrate in Kibera slum after President Uhuru Kenyatta's election win was declared invalid by a court in Nairobi, Kenya, September 1, 2017. REUTERS/Thomas Mukoya
Supporters of an opposition leader Raila Odinga celebrate in Mathare slum after President Uhuru Kenyatta's election win was declared invalid by a court in Nairobi, Kenya, September 1, 2017. REUTERS/Siegfried Modola
Supporters of an opposition leader Raila Odinga celebrate in Kibera slum after President Uhuru Kenyatta's election win was declared invalid by a court in Nairobi, Kenya, September 1, 2017. REUTERS/Thomas Mukoya
Supporters of an opposition leader Raila Odinga cheer outside the court after President Uhuru Kenyatta's election win was declared invalid in Nairobi, Kenya, September 1, 2017. REUTERS/Baz Ratner
Supporters of an opposition leader Raila Odinga celebrate in Kibera slum after President Uhuru Kenyatta's election win was declared invalid by a court in Nairobi, Kenya, September 1, 2017. REUTERS/Thomas Mukoya
Supporters of opposition leader Raila Odinga cheer outside court after President Uhuru Kenyatta's election win was declared invalid in Nairobi, Kenya, September 1, 2017. REUTERS/Baz Ratner
Supporters of an opposition leader Raila Odinga celebrate in Kibera slum after President Uhuru Kenyatta's election win was declared invalid by a court in Nairobi, Kenya, September 1, 2017. REUTERS/Thomas Mukoya
Supporters of opposition leader Raila Odinga cheer outside court after President Uhuru Kenyatta's election win was declared invalid in Nairobi, Kenya, September 1, 2017. REUTERS/Baz Ratner
Opposition leader Raila Odinga speaks at a news conference outside court after President Uhuru Kenyatta's election win was declared invalid in Nairobi, Kenya, September 1, 2017. REUTERS/Baz Ratner
Supporters of an opposition leader Raila Odinga celebrate in Kibera slum after President Uhuru Kenyatta's election win was declared invalid by a court in Nairobi, Kenya, September 1, 2017. REUTERS/Thomas Mukoya
Police look on as supporters of opposition leader Raila Odinga celebrate after President Uhuru Kenyatta's election win was declared invalid by a court in Nairobi, Kenya, September 1, 2017. REUTERSThomas Mukoyaolice
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Friday's ruling, which sent shares plummeting on the Nairobi bourse, brought celebrating Odinga supporters onto the streets of his western heartland. In court, a grinning Odinga pumped his fist in the air as his supporters cheered and shook his hand.

"The declaration (of Kenyatta's win) is invalid, null and void," said Judge David Maranga, announcing a verdict backed by four of the six judges.

He said the election board "failed, neglected or refused to conduct the presidential election in a manner consistent with the dictates of the constitution."

Official results had given Kenyatta 54.3 percent of the vote, compared to Odinga's 44.7 percent, a lead of 1.4 million votes. Kenyatta's ruling party also swept the legislature.

"This indeed is a very historic day for the people of Kenya," Odinga said after the decision. "For the first time in history of African democratization a ruling has been made by a court nullifying irregular elections for the president."

International observers had said they saw no sign of manipulation of voting and tallying at polling stations.

Civil society groups said the election board was too slow posting results from polling stations. Thousands were missing when official results were declared, so opponents could not check totals. Court experts said some documents lacked official stamps or had figures that did not match official tallies.

ETHNIC LOYALTIES

At least 28 people were killed in violence after Kenyatta was initially declared victor. Most were shot or beaten to death by police amid scattered protests in opposition strongholds.

Ethnic loyalties still tend to trump policy in Kenyan votes. Kenyatta is a Kikuyu, the biggest of Kenya's more than 40 ethnic groups, while Odinga is a Luo, another big ethnic group.

A lawyer for Kenyatta, Ahmednasir Abdullahi, said the decision was "very political" and the election board had "done nothing wrong." But he said the decision had to be respected.

"Let's go back to the people and the Kenyan people will express themselves again," he said.

Many voters in the west of Kenya, Odinga's stronghold, and along the coast, where many of the nation's Muslims live and traditionally another region of opposition support, feel neglected by the central government. Kenyatta's main support base is in the central region.

Kenyatta and Odinga are both scions of political families. Kenyatta's father, Jomo Kenyatta, was the nation's founding president who had a long running rivalry with Oginga Odinga, who failed like his son in efforts to secure the top job.

RELATED: Daily life in Kenya 

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An evening view of Nairobi, Kenya, December 6, 2016. REUTERS/Siegfried Modola 
A man talks on his mobile phone as he walks in the central business district of Nairobi, Kenya, December 7, 2016. REUTERS/Siegfried Modola 
A man uses his mobile phone at the Brew Bistro & Lounge in Nairobi, Kenya, April 13, 2017. REUTERS/Siegfried Modola 
A man poses for the camera as he waits for a fashion show to begin, in Nairobi, Kenya, December 3, 2016. REUTERS/Siegfried Modola 
A band performs at the Brew Bistro & Lounge in Nairobi, Kenya, April 13, 2017. REUTERS/Siegfried Modola 
Replicas of animals are displayed at the National Museum in Nairobi, Kenya, July 29, 2017. REUTERS/Siegfried Modola 
A view from a high-rise building shows part of the city of Nairobi, Kenya, January 20, 2017. REUTERS/Siegfried Modola 
A woman performs at the Florida nightclub in Nairobi, Kenya, April 16, 2017. REUTERS/Siegfried Modola 
Guests socialise at the luxurious Villa Rosa Kempinski hotel in Nairobi, Kenya, April 13, 2017. REUTERS/Siegfried Modola 
A man talks on a mobile phone on the rooftop of PAWA254, an organisation supporting and fostering young people and promoting arts and culture geared towards social impact in the country, in Nairobi, Kenya, December 6, 2016. REUTERS/Siegfried Modola 
CEO of Kenyan startup Kytabu, Paul Mugambi, poses for a portrait at the company's office in Nairobi, Kenya, July 28, 2017. The company provides affordable curriculum material to students in digital form through mobile devices. REUTERS/Siegfried Modola 
A concierge organises the shelves of the cigar lounge at the luxurious Villa Rosa Kempinski hotel in Nairobi, Kenya, April 13, 2017. REUTERS/Siegfried Modola 
An employee of the startup Kytabu, works in the company's office in Nairobi, Kenya, July 28, 2017. The company provides affordable curriculum material to students in digital form, through mobile devices. REUTERS/Siegfried Modola 
People walk below an advertisement in Nairobi, Kenya, July 29, 2017. REUTERS/Siegfried Modola 
A boy waits for the start of a go-kart race in Nairobi, Kenya, January 22, 2017. REUTERS/Siegfried Modola 
A family pedal a pedalo on an artificial lake in Uhuru Park, Nairobi, Kenya, July 29, 2017. REUTERS/Siegfried Modola 
Children play between races at the Ngong Racecourse in Nairobi, Kenya, November 27, 2016. REUTERS/Siegfried Modola 
Spectators wait for the races to begin at Ngong Racecourse in Nairobi, Kenya, November 27, 2016. REUTERS/Siegfried Modola 
Skaters practice in a public park in Nairobi, Kenya, July 29, 2017. REUTERS/Siegfried Modola 
A man walks on the golf course of the Windsor Golf Hotel & Country Club in Nairobi, Kenya, January 19, 2017. REUTERS/Siegfried Modola 
A man parades a horse before racing begins at Ngong Racecourse in Nairobi, Kenya, November 27, 2016. REUTERS/Siegfried Modola 
A model poses in front of a mirror before a fashion show in Nairobi, Kenya, December 3, 2016. REUTERS/Siegfried Modola 
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Odinga has contested the last three elections and lost each time. After each one, he has claimed the votes were marred by rigging. In 2013, the Supreme Court dismissed his petition.

This time, his team focused on proving that the process for tallying and transmitting results was flawed, rather than proving how much of the vote was rigged.

Residents in the western city of Kisumu, where Odinga has strong backing, cheered and motorcycle drivers hooted their horns. "Today is a special today and I will celebrate until I am worn out,” said 32-year-old Kevin Ouma.

In the eastern Rift Valley town of Kinangop, a stronghold for the ruling party, small groups gathered and complained.

"Over 8 million people supported the election of Uhuru Kenyatta but the Supreme Court has ignored this in the ruling which is very shameful," said Matheri Wa Hungu.

Kenyan shares, which rallied after Kenyatta was declared winner, tumbled on Friday and prompted the authorities to suspend trading for half an hour. The shilling weakened and Kenya's dollar bonds fell. (Writing by Katharine Houreld and Edmund Blair; Editing by Janet Lawrence)

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