By James Macharia
NAIROBI, March 12 (Reuters) - Kenya's elections passed largely peacefully in early March without a repeat of the violence that erupted after the last election in 2007, but defeated presidential candidate Raila Odinga is contesting the outcome of the vote in court.
Uhuru Kenyatta, indicted for crimes against humanity by the International Criminal Court (ICC), was declared the winner, but further uncertainty surrounds his presidency because his trial The Hague is due to start no July 9.
Odinga, 68, refused to concede defeat, but said he had faith in a reformed judiciary and he would accept the Supreme Court's ruling on his petition to nullify the election of Kenyatta on grounds that it was achieved fraudulently.
His comments defused tensions in flashpoint areas, such as Nairobi's Kibera slums which is part of his parliamentary constituency and Kisumu, a western city that is a bastion of his support.
Kenya's Chief Justice Willy Mutunga has promised to handle any challenge to the result in a fair and speedy manner, but if Odinga's challenge fails it could still spark anger among the veteran politician's backers.
What to watch out for:
- The case is a test of the newly reformed court's independence. Can it deliver a swift and transparent resolution of the dispute and will people have confidence in its ruling?
- If Odinga wins his challenge, it would mean a new presidential race that would unnerve markets that have rallied after the vote and prolong uncertainty. Would Kenyatta's supporters accept that?
- If Odinga's challenge fails, would it ignite riots in his strongholds? Will they spread?
PRESIDENT-ELECT AN ICC SUSPECT
Kenyatta, 51, Kenya's richest man and son of its founding President Jomo Kenyatta, faces trial at The Hague on charges of playing a leading role in the wave of tribal killings that followed the disputed 2007 election. More than 1,200 people were killed and some 350,000 fled their homes.
How Western capitals deal with Kenya under Kenyatta and his government will depend on whether he and his running mate William Ruto, who is also indicted by the ICC, work with the tribunal. Both Kenyatta and Ruto deny the charges and have said they will work to clear their names.
The United States and the European Union are big investors in Kenya, a country they see as a vital ally in the struggle with militant Islam in the region. But their comments ahead of the election that a Kenyatta win would complicate diplomatic ties have set the two sides on a collision course.
What to watch for:
- Will the West keep Kenyatta and Ruto at arms length while preserving valuable security and business ties?
- Will they risk not dealing with Kenyatta and push east Africa's biggest economy and main trade gateway to the region closer to China?
- The ICC prosecutor has withdrawn charges against one of Kenyatta's co-accused for lack of evidence. Will Kenyatta and Ruto's cases stand the test of time?
- Lengthy trials for both could cause a power vacuum, and disrupt the smooth running of a new government.
- Will economic growth slow from any hiccup caused by their absence at trial? The International Monetary Fund expects the economy to grow at least 5.5 to 6 pct this year from an estimated 4.5 to 5 percent in 2012. (Reporting by James Macharia; Editing by Edmund Blair and Jon Hemming)