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Last Updated: Tuesday, 15 January 2008, 22:32 GMT
Jeers and cheers as Kenyan MPs meet
By Josphat Makori
BBC News, Nairobi

Opposition MP (C) IN Kenya parliament
Constant disruptions delayed a vote for a new speaker by five hours
It did not take long for Kenyan MPs to begin trading insults as a boisterous chamber got down to its first session after last month's disputed elections.

When opposition leader Raila Odinga, who claims he won the December poll, walked into the house, one of his Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) supporters shouted out: "Mr President."

Altogether his side of the house stood to attention - many with a natty orange pocket handkerchief visible - to further show their allegiance.

Minutes later, no such respect was given to President Mwai Kibaki, whose announcement as "Mr President" was greeted by jeers of "shame, shame" from opposition benches, where bums stayed firmly on seats.

It took another five hours to elect a speaker for the house.

Swapping jibes

The debate over procedure twisted and turned and the MPs clearly savoured swapping jibes in person.

Opposition MP arrives at parliament waving an orange handkerchief
Opposition MPs say they feel cheated by the presidential poll

The ODM said it wanted the vote electing a speaker to be public to avoid any chance of Mr Kibaki's Party of National Unity bribing its members to the other side.

"We went through [national] elections with a secret ballot and you stole the vote," quipped ODM MP William Ruto.

Government MP Mutula Kilonzo retorted: "You are now violating the very principle this country has been seeking."

As tempers frayed, the temperature in the packed chamber rose and a woman MP was heard calling out for water.

Hissing

Parliamentary clerk Samuel Ndiri settled the matter by ordering a secret ballot, with a clear box to be placed in a central location for voting.

Finding the exact position, however, proved difficult, with the box being moved on several occasions and then lowered for honourable members who found it too high.

President Mwai Kibaki
President Mwai Kibaki joined MPs in casting his vote for a speaker

A clerk then read out alphabetically the names of the 207 MPs present to come forward to cast their ballot.

As Mr Ruto stepped forward to vote, government MPs shouted: "Genocide, murderer, genocide, murderer."

The opposition MP's constituency is in the Rift Valley town of Eldoret, where post-poll violence claimed the lives of dozens of people, mainly from President Kibaki's Kikuyu ethnic group.

Then the opposition started hissing loudly as government minister John Michuki stepped up.

Heated contest

He is infamous in Kenya for saying: "If you rattle a snake, you must be prepared to be bitten by it", after ordering an armed raid on a newspaper office two years ago.

As the MPs traded insults, Mr Odinga and Mr Kibaki were noticeably calm.

It was the first time the rivals had been in the same room since before the elections and they did not make eye contact.

Raila Odinga casts his vote
Raila Odinga omitted the word 'president' from his allegiance oath

Robed in blue, the parliamentary clerks withstood the pressure as the heated contest was taken to a third round.

The ODM's Kenneth Marende won the day to loud applause, cheering and stamping of feet.

It was the new speaker's first task to oversee the swearing in of his colleagues.

In a taste of what is to come, Mr Marende listened as MPs grumbled about having to swear allegiance to the president.

In the end, it now being an hour before midnight, he told them to lump it for the time being - but turned a deaf ear when Mr Odinga skipped the word "president" during the reading of his oath.

VIDEO AND AUDIO NEWS
MPs challenge each other across the floor in parliament



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