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Kenyan Parliament Passes Power-Sharing Amendment


Kenya's Parliament has unanimously approved a bill to amend the constitution to allow for a power-sharing agreement between the country's two main parties. As Derek Kilner reports from Nairobi, both sides have expressed strong support for the deal, but the bigger test will be to see how well the parties cooperate in a coalition government.

The power-sharing agreement signed late last month by President Mwai Kibaki and his challenger in December's disputed elections, Raila Odinga, calls for the creation of the position of prime minister - which would go to Odinga. The Cabinet would be split evenly between the two sides.

Kenya's constitution needs to be amended to accommodate such changes. After finalizing the amendment, the parliament will take up another bill to put in place the power-sharing arrangement.

Both leaders had strongly urged support for the necessary amendment and debate in parliament was marked by conciliation and optimism. Odinga called for Kenyans to unite behind the agreement.

"Let us not look at each other, Mr. Speaker, as PNU, ODM-K, ODM and so on," he said. "Let us now fuse together now as one people who want to do something for the people of Kenya. Let us strengthen the foundation of multiparty democracy in our country."

President Kibaki made an unusual appearance before parliament, expressing hope that the political and ethnic violence that killed over 1,000 people and displaced hundreds of thousands following the election, can be left behind.

"We were developing apart earlier on. And now we are going together," said President Kibaki. "That we are going together is a joy, for the reason that we shall succeed. Where we were headed a little while ago it was terrible. And I am quite sure myself that we have found an answer."

While politicians have united behind the power-sharing agreement, there remains some uncertainty over how the coalition will function in practice. A statement by the head of the country's civil service last week, which seemed to imply a lesser role for the prime minister and less sharing of government jobs than the opposition had expected, prompted criticism from Odinga's Orange Democratic Movement.

The coalition government will also oversee a year-long overhaul of Kenya's constitution, which critics charge now grants the president too many powers.

In parliament, there was widespread support for the need to change the document. But discussion on the details of reforms - including curtailing the president's powers, decentralizing the government, and changing laws of land ownership - is likely to prove far more contentious.

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