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Kenyan Prime Minister Ready for New Elections

A dispute between the partners in Kenya's coalition government over who should hold a key position in parliament continues to grow. Prime Minister Raila Odinga has now said he is ready for new elections if the dispute is not resolved.

Ever since Kenya's coalition government was formed last year, in the aftermath of disputed presidential elections, tensions between the country's two main parties have been high.

But for the first time, Prime Minister Raila Odinga has raised the possibility of holding early elections, an option that both he and President Mwai Kibaki have quickly dismissed on previous occasions.

The latest dispute concerns who should head the parliament's government business committee, which sets the legislative agenda. President Kibaki has appointed Vice President Kalonzo Musyoka, but Odinga maintains that he should have the job, since his Orange Democratic Movement holds a majority in parliament.

Odinga stands firm

On Sunday, Odinga addressed supporters in Kibera, Nairobi's largest slum, which Odinga represents in parliament.

"We have been pushed enough already," he said. "We cannot retreat any further. We will stand firm. If the other side does not give in, we will go back to the ballot."

The Orange Democratic Movement has long complained that it has been sidelined in making key decisions and appointments by the president's Party of National Unity.

Civilian coup?

Musyoka, meanwhile, has called Odinga's efforts "illegal" and "unconstitutional." The Party of National Unity has released a statement accusing the Orange Democratic Movement of plotting a "civilian coup."

Meanwhile, cabinet meetings were canceled for the third consecutive week, and discussion of legislation in parliament has come to a standstill.

House speaker Kenneth Marende is set to rule on the issue on Tuesday.

Is Kenya ready for elections?

PLO Lumumba, a lecturer in law at the University of Nairobi, says Kenya is far from prepared to hold new elections.

"The country is definitely not ready for elections. We must have a new electoral commission, a new electoral register. You need a census you need to punish those who perpetrated the post-election violence," Lumumba said.

Ethnic and political violence following the last election in December, 2007 left over 1200 people dead and hundreds of thousands displaced. Many observers say there is concern the government has, so far, done little to avoid the possibility of more violence when elections are held again.