Kenya's post-election dispute moves to parliament


  • World
  • Tuesday, 15 Jan 2008

MYT 2:45:59 PM

NAIROBI (Reuters) - The dispute over President Mwai Kibaki's re-election in Kenya moved to parliament on Tuesday as the government and opposition prepared to wrestle for control of the east African nation's legislature.

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

Kenya's President Mwai Kibaki addresses people who were displaced in post-election violence at Burnt Forest near Eldoret, about 306 km northwest of Nairobi January 9, 2008. (REUTERS/Mike Hutchings)

In the 222-seat parliament, the opposition Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) commands the highest number of seats, 99.

It hopes to elect its candidate, Kenneth Marende, as speaker in the first business on Tuesday. Further down the line it aims to block the government's work and possibly seek a vote of no confidence in Kibaki.

It has even threatened to occupy the government's seats.

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

Former U.N. head Kofi Annan was also due to fly into Nairobi at the head of a group of "Eminent Africans" to try and mediate between Kibaki and opposition leader Raila Odinga, who says he was robbed of the presidency in the Dec. 27 vote.

Coming with Annan are Graca Machel, who is the wife of former South African President Nelson Mandela, and former Tanzanian President Benjamin Mkapa.

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

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

In the most tangible threat from the West since the crisis began, the European Union threatened late on Monday to cut aid.

SPEAKER

Kibaki's Party of National Unity (PNU) won 43 seats at the election but believes it can tempt enough legislators from other parties to join its ranks and keep control.

Kibaki, 76, and Odinga, 63 -- a one-time member of his cabinet and former political prisoner -- were likely to face each other in parliament for the swearing-in, the first time they have been together since the election.

"The wounds of the losers are still fresh, especially because they believe that they were robbed of the ultimate prize," said the Standard newspaper.

"It is understandable they have a grudge and may want to settle scores on the floor of the House."

Diplomatic efforts to get Kibaki and Odinga to negotiate suffered a blow on Monday when a senior cabinet minister and close Kibaki ally rejected Annan's mission in advance.

"If Kofi Annan is coming, 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."

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.

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

(Additional reporting by Duncan Miriri)

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