Kenya's post-election dispute moves to parliament


  • World
  • Tuesday, 15 Jan 2008

MYT 4:45:53 PM

NAIROBI (Reuters) - Kenya's political turmoil moved to parliament on Tuesday with the government and opposition wrestling for control of the nation's legislature after the disputed re-election of President Mwai Kibaki.

Roads were closed and riot police ringed the building in downtown Nairobi from early morning before the opening session of the new parliament, scheduled for 2.30 p.m. (1130 GMT).

Displaced Kenyans await the distribution of aid at their temporary refuge at the Nairobi Show Grounds, January 13, 2008. Kenya's political turmoil moved to parliament on Tuesday with the government and opposition wrestling for control of the nation's legislature after the disputed re-election of President Mwai Kibaki. (REUTERS/Mike Hutchings)

In the 222-seat parliament, the opposition Orange Democratic Movement (ODM), which says Kibaki stole the Dec. 27 vote by electoral fraud, commands the highest number of seats, 99.

It hopes to elect its candidate, Kenneth Marende, as speaker on Tuesday and has even threatened to occupy the government seats, arguing it is the rightful election winner.

ODM later plans to block all government work in parliament.

"It's going to be very acrimonious. We should definitely expect some drama," said political analyst X.N. Iraki.

The sitting of parliament begins a new period of high tension after a lull in the crisis, with ODM planning to stage a wave of banned street demonstrations from Wednesday.

Former U.N. head Kofi Annan was due to fly into Nairobi on Tuesday night to head a group of "Eminent Africans" trying to mediate between Kibaki and opposition leader Raila Odinga.

Joining Annan are Graca Machel, wife of Nelson Mandela, and former Tanzanian President Benjamin Mkapa.

Turmoil since the presidential and parliamentary elections has killed at least 612 people, jeopardised Kenya's democratic credentials, damaged one of Africa's brightest economies and dismayed foreign donors.

Western powers complained of irregularities in the presidential vote count and want a power-sharing arrangement.

In the toughest action from the West since the crisis began, the European Union threatened late on Monday to cut aid.

"INTEGRITY AND SOBRIETY"

Kibaki's Party of National Unity (PNU) won only 43 seats in the parliamentary election on Dec. 27.

But it believes it can garner enough support from other parties to control the law-making body.

Kibaki, 76, and Odinga, 63 -- a one-time member of his cabinet and former political prisoner -- are likely to face each for the first time since the vote when parliament is sworn in.

Media and civil society groups urged the two sides to put national unity and peace before their dispute.

"We call for integrity and sobriety in parliament ... Kenyans expect a lot," the Standard newspaper said. "Accolades should go to those who aspire to heal the nation; barbs must go the way of those whose mission will be to light more fires."

Diplomatic efforts to get Kibaki and Odinga to negotiate appeared to suffer a blow on Monday when a senior minister and close Kibaki ally rejected Annan's mission.

"He's not coming at our invitation," said Roads and Public Works Minister John Michuki. "We won an election. We don't have a problem to be solved here."

But the Foreign Ministry disowned those comments on Tuesday, saying it welcomed the Annan mission.

"The Government welcomes Eminent African statesmen and personalities to Kenya to facilitate dialogue between political leaders in the search for a lasting solution to the current political situation in the country," it said.

Though the presidential vote was widely perceived to be flawed, the parliamentary ballot was given a relatively clean bill of health by most independent observers.

After parliament's opening, the opposition plans three days of nationwide anti-Kibaki protests from Wednesday.

Police have banned the rallies and many expatriates are leaving Nairobi and other towns in anticipation of trouble.

The United Nations' 4,000 staff in Nairobi were on a Phase 2 alert -- of three levels -- meaning only essential staff were at their desks.

Around 250,000 Kenyans are still living as refugees from the violence -- an irony in a nation long used to receiving the homeless from neighbouring hot-spots like Somalia and Sudan.

(Additional reporting by Duncan Miriri)

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