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Prime Minister Disputes Key Nominations in Kenyan Judiciary

Controversy is again raging in Kenya’s coalition government after the prime minister rejected key judicial appointments he says were made behind his back.

In recent months, Kenya's government has received sharp criticism for the pace at which it had put in place provisions of the new constitution. But the implementation of Kenya’s new constitution took a leap forward Saturday as President Mwai Kibaki announced nominees to fill the roles of Chief Justice and Attorney General of Kenya.

Reforms to the judiciary are seen as among the most important components of the new constitution, and the nominations come just weeks before the February deadline. But the appointments have sparked a fresh row between the president and Prime Minister Raila Odinga, who has rejected the nominees.

Speaking Sunday in Nairobi after returning from the African Union Summit in Ethiopia, Mr. Odinga said the nominations threatened the implementation of the new constitution.

"Without a doubt, this decision has thrown the country into a major constitutional crisis and may be the beginning of the end, in respect of the implementation of the reform agenda if not corrected and reversed," Odinga said.

President Kibaki has nominated Judge Alnashir Vikram as Kenya’s new chief justice and Professor Githu Muigai to replace longstanding Attorney General Amos Wako.

At issue is not the qualification of either candidate. Kenyan law requires the president to consult with the prime minister when making major appointments in government, a requirement Mr. Odinga alleges was ignored. The prime minister said Sunday he had requested discussions regarding the nomination be postponed until his return from Ethiopia, but the nominations were made while he was away.

Critics of the President are calling for action in Kenya’s courts, but government spokesperson Alfred Mutua defended President Kibaki’s actions.

"Consultations do not mean 100-percent agreement or 100-percent consensus, otherwise the country would never move forward," Mutua said.

The Judicial Service Commission, which is tasked to compile a list of possible candidates for the judiciary, also rejected the nominees, saying the president violated the spirit of Kenyan law and also failed to consult the body.

There is disagreement in Kenya’s legal community over the legality of the nominations. Opponents of the move argue President Kibaki should have sought Prime Minister Odinga's opinion before the announcement, while the president's supporters say he is only required by law to inform the prime minister of his decision.