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Diplomats Welcome Ruling on Kenya Political Impasse


Western diplomats have welcomed a ruling by the speaker of Kenya's parliament that puts off a contentious decision over an appointment that has threatened the country's coalition government. The decision will allow more time for discussion between Kenya's parties, but by itself does little to resolve their differences.

For the past week, business in Kenya's parliament has been at a standstill as the country's leaders wrangled over who should be appointed to head the Government Business Committee, which sets the legislative agenda.

President Mwai Kibaki had named Vice President Kalonzo Musyoka to the post, but Prime Minister Raila Odinga, whose Orange Democratic Movement holds a majority in parliament, says he should have the job.

Beyond the immediate dispute, control of the post had emerged as a line in the sand for the parties, who have constantly struggled over power since forming a coalition government a year ago, following disputed elections.

Parliament speaker Kenneth Marende was expected to decide the issue Tuesday, but instead ruled that he would temporarily take over the job until the parties could agree on a candidate.

Western envoys to Kenya welcomed the decision, saying it will allow parliament to get back to its full plate of tasks, which include setting up a new electoral commission, revising the constitution and establishing a tribunal to try those suspected of organizing post-election violence.

U.S. Ambassador to Kenya Michael Ranneberger called the decision "wise" and "impartial."

"The speaker's decision keeps parliament functioning and provides the basis for the parliament to move ahead with the reform agenda. We want to see both sides support, as they are doing, this decision and work in a constructive spirit first of all to sort out the differences in the coalition government but also to advance the reform agenda," he said.

He made the comments at a joint news conference with his British and German counterparts. German Ambassador Walter Lindner echoed the call for the parties to sort out their differences, saying that early elections are not a viable alternative.

"I think snap elections is just not an option. First, there is no money for it, second there is no ECK [Electoral commission of Kenya] for it, and third there is no final reconciliation process there, which would ensure that at a snap election the same things would not happen which happened 16 months ago," he said.

Following the disputed elections in 2007, a wave of political and ethnic violence killed more than 1,200 people and displaced hundreds of thousands. Since then the electoral commission has been disbanded, but a replacement has not been formed. The government has also failed to set up a court to try those responsible for the violence.

The decision has also been welcomed by the panel of prominent Africans, led by former U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan, which negotiated last year's power-sharing agreement, as well as by the Law Society of Kenya and the editorial boards of the country's main newspapers.

Prime Minister Raila Odinga said he would accept the speaker's decision, but the president's Party of National Unity has said it will challenge the ruling in court.

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