The death of Kenya's vice president Michael Wamalwa last week in London could deepen old rivalries within the ruling coalition. The president of Kenya, Mwai Kibaki, will have to pick a new vice president with great political skill.

Political observers say Mr. Kibaki will have a challenging time picking a successor for the popular Michael Wamalwa, who died in a London hospital last Saturday.

Mr. Wamalwa was widely seen as a key player in merging about a dozen political parties into a single political force, the National Rainbow Coalition, which was strong enough to end 24 years of rule by former president Daniel arap Moi in last year's elections.

Battles have erupted within the NARC government over the key appointment of the prime minister, a new post that is likely to be created under new constitutional amendments.

Mr. Wamalwa was the voice of unity and hope, according to Emman Omari, political editor of The Daily Nation, who said that in Mr. Wamalwa's "last speech, he talked of unity and he talked of the country being at 40 and life begins at 40, and everybody thought that was really smoothing over."

Mr. Omari says President Kibaki has little choice but to appoint as his successor someone from Western Province, where Mr. Wamalwa came from, and which heavily supported the NARC government during the election campaign.

"If [President Kibaki] chooses outside Western Province, then it will even create further rifts within the party," said the journalist.

Preston Chitere, a research fellow at the Institute of Policy Analysis, said Mr. Kibaki will have to balance between ethnicity and political party affiliation when he appoints the new vice president.

He said an ideal choice would be Minister for Home Affairs and National Heritage Moody Awori, who is from Western Kenya and is a member of the Liberal Democratic Party, which was promised the Prime Minister's post before the election.

Other names mentioned as possibilities include Minister for Roads, Housing and Public Works Raila Odinga; Foreign Affairs Minister Kalonzo Musyoka and Health Minster Charity Ngilu.

Mr. Chitere said the appointments of the vice president and prime minister should not be linked. "The best way forward is to appoint the vice president and to let the question of Prime Minister rest until the constitutional review," he said.

Meanwhile, the government has declared a two-week mourning period, after which Mr. Wamalwa will be buried September 6.