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Kenyan Parties Split Seats in By-Elections

The party of Kenya's Prime Minister Raila Odinga won three of the five open parliament seats in Wednesday's by-elections. The remaining two went to the party of President Mwai Kibaki, Odinga's partner in Kenya's grand coalition government. For VOA, Derek Kilner has more from Nairobi.

In western Kenya, Benjamin Langat of Mr. Odinga's Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) won an election to fill the seat of his brother, David Too, who was shot and killed following December's disputed elections.

ODM candidates also won a race to fill a seat in western Kenya vacated by the new speaker of Kenya's parliament, and another in northern Kenya where December's vote produced a tie.

President Mwai Kibaki's Party of National Unity won a race in Kilgoris, near the Maasai Mara game reserve, where violence prevented December's results from being counted and another in the capital Nairobi, where another ODM lawmaker, Mugabe Were, was killed following December's vote.

The ODM candidate in that race, Esther Passaris refused to concede defeat, saying the vote was rigged by the government, and claiming that some voters cast multiple ballots.

Despite concerns over a return to the widespread violence that followed December's elections, Tuesday's vote was largely peaceful. There was some unrest in Kilgoris, with local media reporting that members of the Maasai community burned down several houses belonging to people who voted for a rival party.

But the winner in the election, Gideon Konchellah, said reports of the incident were exaggerated.

"The problem of this election was nothing to do with the parties; it had to do with community interests," he said. "They are trying to protect their culture they are trying to protect their heritage, and they asked everyone who lived with them to vote with them. So two people I think did vote for a different party, and as a result I think the people were very annoyed and they burned the two houses. This is an incident, which I really condemned, that we should not resort to barbaric ways of settling scores. But the media is trying to blow this thing out of proportion."

Konchellah, a member of the Maasai, was minister of immigration in President Kibaki's previous government.

Parliament is roughly split between supporters of President Kibaki and Prime Minister Odinga, heightening the national importance of Wednesday's vote. Mr. Odinga's ODM emerged from December's elections as by far the largest party in parliament. But including several smaller parties that have allied with President Kibaki's Party of National Unity, the two sides are nearly split, though the allegiance of some of these parties has become tenuous.

ODM's strength in parliament suffered another setback Tuesday, when two more of the party's lawmakers were killed in a plane crash, including minister of roads Kipkalya Kones. However, the two represent areas seen as ODM strongholds, and the party is expected to retain the seats when by-elections are held.

No plans for these by-elections have yet been set.