Constituting and regulating democracy: Kenya’s electoral commission and the Courts in the 2010s

Richard Stacey*, Victoria Miyandazi

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

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In August 2017, responding to a petition from the losing candidate in the presidential election held days before, the Supreme Court of Kenya declared the results of the election null and void. Dramatic in itself, the decision stands in surprising contrast to the same Court's decision to uphold the 2013 election results following a similar petition. Beyond the different outcomes in 2013 and 2017, the Court's jurisprudential approach to the two petitions was markedly different. The Court showed significant deference to the Independent Elections and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) in 2013, and did not seriously interrogate its conclusion that the election had been free and fair. In 2017, however, the Court scrutinised the IEBC's process and paid close attention to the reasons it gave for declaring the result free and fair. This article considers the difference in the Court's approach in two ways. First, from a prescriptive perspective, it suggests when it is appropriate for courts to closely scrutinise the work of elections management boards and other ‘fourth branch’ institutions protecting democracy (IPDs). The article argues that where an IPD performs a function that is constitutive of rights, courts should be prepared to intervene. By contrast, where an IPD performs a function that is regulative of already constituted rights, courts of review should act with deference. On this basis, the article concludes that the Court should have engaged in a deeper review of the IEBC's 2013 decision. Second, from a descriptive perspective, the article suggests that the difference between the Court's 2013 and 2017 approaches can be explained by waning levels of public trust in the IEBC alongside growing levels of public confidence in the judiciary.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)S193 - S210
Number of pages18
JournalAsian Journal of Comparative law
Issue numberS1
Early online date29 Nov 2021
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2021


  • Constitutional democracy


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