Kenya: Speaker’s intervention prevents coalition split

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Kenneth Marende, Kenya’s speaker of parliament, averted a potential crisis on Tuesday with a ruling that stalled an explosive power struggle within the country’s coalition government.

Mr Marende named himself as the interim chairman of the House business committee, which sets the agenda in parliament, after president Mwai Kibaki and prime minister Raila Odinga failed to agree on which of them had powers over the appointment.

A dispute between the two rivals over the position threatened to tear apart the coalition government formed as a means of ending last year’s post-election crisis in which 1,500 people died. While the Speaker’s ruling has only delayed the outcome of a more serious row over executive authority, it may at least allow parliament to work.

A loaded legislative agenda includes crucial reforms aimed at resolving some of the issues underlying last year’s crisis, the worst since Kenya’s independence from Britain in 1963. Mr Marende said he had taken on the role of running the agenda only temporarily. It was up to the two parties to reach agreement, he said.

If he had ruled more decisively he would have run the risk of precipitating a walkout by one or other side. This according to last year’s peace agreement, brokered by former UN secretary-general Kofi Annan, would have forced fresh elections.

Mr Kibaki’s decision last week to appoint Kalonzo Musyoka, the vice-president, to run government business in parliament, infuriated the prime minister who has become increasingly frustrated at what he sees as efforts to sideline him.

Mr Odinga’s Orange Democratic Movement commands a small majority in parliament, but a presidential election held in December 2006 proved inconclusive with both sides claiming to have won.

The continuing tussle for leadership has raised tensions nationwide. With both parties calling recently for the dissolution of the coalition and a return to the ballot box, there have been widespread fears that the kind of violence experienced after the December 2007 elections could be repeated.

A viable electoral commission to replace the discredited institution at the heart of the previous dispute has yet to be established. Without it, civil society activists say, there is no guarantee that fresh elections would produce a credible result.

With crime and insecurity at unprecedented highs and faith in the coalition government brought low by chronic corruption and the rising cost of food, the country remains on a knife edge.

Financial Times

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