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Kenyan Parliament Welcomes New Faces - 2003-01-09

Kenya's ninth parliament opened Thursday, with a new ruling party, a new government, a new president and many new faces. Parliament was convened earlier than usual in order to start implementing the incoming government's reform program.

There were a record number of new faces in Parliament as it reopened Thursday afternoon. There were also a record number of female members, but still just 13 out of 222.

The first business of the House was to elect the Speaker and his deputy.

Francis ole Kaparo was easily re-elected as Speaker, with 205 votes, after his most serious opponent withdrew at the last minute. He has held the post since 1992.

The Speaker congratulated Kenyans, and the former ruling party KANU, for last month's peaceful transition process, in which power was transferred to the opposition for the first time since Kenya's independence 40 years ago.

"As a nation, we have demonstrated political maturity in that a party that has been in power since independence peacefully handed over power to another after losing in the elections," he said.

Immediately afterwards, in Swahili, the Speaker swore in the 222 members of parliament, starting with the new president, Mwai Kibaki.

President Kibaki's National Rainbow Coalition has a record 132 legislators, the strongest majority seen in Parliament since multi-partyism was re-introduced in 1992. The former ruling party, KANU, has just 67 seats.

President Kibaki will need this strong majority to push through his ambitious reform agenda.

The first thing he is expected to do is ask Parliament to amend the budget to provide free primary education for all Kenyan children, one of his party's key election pledges.

Schools re-opened Monday amid a great deal of confusion. Riot police had to be sent in to some schools, where more than twice the normal number of children had arrived, hoping to be admitted.

The new president will also be pushing his anti-corruption program, and many other promised reforms.