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Kenya MP Leads Final Effort to Try Violence Suspects Locally

A rogue Kenyan minister of parliament is working with the nation's civil society in a final effort to pass a bill forming a special tribunal to try perpetrators of post-election violence. The bill has received the endorsement of the nation's prime minister but faces an uphill battle against time and political ill-will.

A divided Kenyan cabinet last month decided to forego its efforts to create a local court, opting instead to refer the cases to an investigative body that currently has no prosecutorial powers.

The cabinet decision has appeared to put the fate of the nation's top suspects in the hands of the International Criminal Court at The Hague, which was given a list of key suspects by former United Nations chief Kofi Annan.

But not all Kenyans are ready to accept its country's lack of political resolve to prosecute masterminds of the chaos internally. Kenyan MP Gitobu Imanyara is leading a campaign to get a local tribunal bill passed by Parliament before the legislative body goes on a two-month recess late next week.

Kenya was reportedly given a September deadline by the ICC chief prosecutor to try set up an internationally-acceptable local court.

The MP leading the charge has met extensively with Kenya's civil society to help draft a bill that would give the court complete independence from the nation's executive and judiciary branches, neither of which are trusted to fully prosecute the suspects.

Because the bill must amend the country's constitution, the act must receive two-thirds support in Parliament to be successful.

Imanyara has appealed to Kenyans directly to put pressure on their local MPs to support the bill, creating the Web site which solicits comments and suggestions from Kenyans on the act.

"We MPs are the product of the people. We are delegates," he said. "And if the people of Kenya demand certain things from us certain things and we fail, then we've failed. So they will be entitled to rise against us to force us to do what was expected of us, what we were elected to do. We cannot afford to fail. If we address this issue objectively, without the ethnic emotions attached to it, we will be able pass this bill with more than two-thirds."

The bill received a boost from the public endorsements from Kenya's prime minister and its minister of justice. Prime Minister Raila Odinga's party holds the majority in Parliament.

But the vote is complicated by the belief that key leaders of two major ethnic groups are named as top suspects in the list handed over to The Hague. These two ethnic groups are part of opposing political coalitions, meaning the vote is unlikely to fall along strict party lines.

And some MPs are taking issue with their colleague's highly-publicized mobilization of public pressure through the Internet, a relatively new tactic in the country's political scene.

George Thuo, a senior leader in Parliament for the party led by President Mwai Kibaki, says that his caucus had not yet seen the draft and had no official position on the proposed bill. But he is blaming his likely opposition to the bill on what he sees as unwarranted bullying from its proponents.

"When you see him launching with civil society and they attempt to intimidate MPs by saying that they are going to have a list on a website of who votes how," he said. "It already starts with a very bad taste. I can't possibly with something because something thought they could intimidate me. So I'm tempted to vote against it intimidation by civil society to vote against it."

In the end of the day, political analyst Adam Oloo predicts Mr. Imanyara's efforts will fall short.

"Those who are 'for' might win the day, but I doubt if they will be able to get the two-thirds," said Oloo.

But according to Oloo, if the bill does manage to go through, it would constitute an unprecedented attempt by the Parliament to stand up against the nation's often-criticized executive, which normally views the legislative body as a rubber stamp for its initiatives.