Page last updated at 17:09 GMT, Wednesday, 10 December 2008

Kenya withdraws poll reforms bill

Rioting in Kenya Jan 08
About 1,500 people were killed in the post-election violence

Kenya's government has been forced to withdraw a bill that would have led to the dissolution of the country's electoral commission.

This was the recommendation of an inquiry into the poll fraud that led to deadly protests nearly a year ago.

MPs said the electoral reform bill was flawed and vowed to shoot it down in parliament if it was not amended.

Earlier, some 600 electoral staff said they had gone on hunger strike, angered at the possible axing of their jobs.

More than 1,500 people were killed and some 300,000 more fled their homes in the unrest that followed the December election.

It was suggested the Electoral Commission of Kenya (ECK), which was accused of meddling with the vote-counting, should be replaced with an interim independent commission.

Heated debate

The decision to withdraw the bill was reached after a consultative meeting, chaired by President Mwai Kibaki and Prime Minister Raila Odinga, held hours before it was supposed to be tabled in parliament.

The BBC's Ruth Nesoba in the capital, Nairobi, says the presence of the two leaders at the extraordinary parliamentary session was perhaps meant to lobby members in support of the bill.

But MPs criticised a clause in the bill which recommended that all ECK employees should be sacked, and said they would oppose the bill if it was not amended to provide the staff with a soft landing pad.

The employees say they were not involved in the poll fraud and should not have to pay for their managers' mistakes.

After hours of what sources say was a heated debate, the pleas of President Kibaki and Prime Minister Odinga appear to have fallen on deaf ears, our correspondent says.

The MPs insisted that the bill should only target the ECK's constitutional office holders - chairman Samuel Kivuitu and 21 other commissioners.

Parliament is under pressure to pass key legislation from recommendations made by two inquiries into the flawed polls and electoral violence before a three-month Christmas recess.

President Kibaki and Mr Odinga, who leads the Orange Democratic Movement party, signed a power-sharing deal in February to bring an end to the post-election violence and formed a coalition government.

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