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Bitter face-off in first parliament session

Latest update : 2008-01-28

Tempers flew Tuesday when parliament held its first session since the disputed presidential election. Opposition candidate was elected as parliament speaker in a close-fought vote. (Report: C. Norris-Trent)

Kenya's opposition candidate on Tuesday was elected as parliament speaker in a close-fought vote held during the first parliament session since last month's disputed presidential poll.

The parliament's clerk announced that Kenneth Marende, supported by  opposition leader Raila Odinga's Orange Democratic Movement (ODM), had mustered 105 votes.

The candidate supported by President Mwai Kibaki's Party of National Unity (PNU) and its allies, Francis ole Kaparo, garnered 101 votes.

The announcement was greeted by loud cheers from opposition lawmakers, who had walked into parliament sporting orange handkerchiefs tucked in their suit pockets, in protest at what they say was Kibaki's fraudulent re-election.

"We won," "Long live ODM," chanted opposition supporters in the streets of Eldoret, an opposition stronghold in western Kenya which was badly hit by the violence that followed election results two weeks ago.

"We are under duty to uphold democracy," Marende said in an inaugural speech that made no direct reference to the dispute over Kibaki's re-election.

The new speaker, a 52-year-old lawyer based in the port city of Mombasa, also  expressed hope "that this house will endeavour to grant Kenyans a new constitutional order at the earliest".

During his first five-year term, Kibaki was criticised for failing to push through a constitutional reform aimed at limiting the president's powers and creating a prime minister position.

With no candidate clinching the required two-thirds majority in the first two rounds of voting, the election was decided in a third and final round by simple majority, after more than five hours of proceedings.

Marende was elected to parliament in last month's polls and, in compliance with the constitution, will have to lose his seat to become the speaker. New elections will have to be held in his constituency.

The inaugural session of Kenya's 10th parliament was expected to last deep into the night, with the election of a deputy speaker and swearing in of the lawmakers still on the agenda.

The session started with prayers but quickly turned into a shouting match between the government camp and the opposition, with Odinga's supporters demanding the vote be public.

The vote was interrupted and had to be started over. The rest of the election eventually carried on smoothly.

According to the Kenyan constitution, the presence of Odinga's MPs-elect in an assembly session convened by Kikabi could be tantamount to a recognition of the president, something the opposition has so far refused to do.

The ODM had won 99 seats in the December 27 general polls. The PNU only managed 43 but has received the support of several medium-sized parties.

Three seats have not been attributed due to irregularities in the ballot, while 12 are to be handed out proportionally to the election results.

The ODM's victory in the parliament vote was expected to dampen opposition anger during three days of nationwide protests scheduled to kick off on Wednesday.

Date created : 2008-01-15