Kenya?s main opposition party, the Orange Democratic Movement (ODM-Kenya), is demanding that unless the government involves civil society groups, it will not participate in the talks on minimum constitutional reform. ODM-Kenya also said it would only recognize Vice President Moody Awori to chair the talks ahead of this year?s general elections. Observers say this new demand could throw the negotiations into a stalemate as the government might reject the opposition?s demands.

Leading ODM-Kenya member Mutula Kilonzo tells the Voice of America in a telephone interview from Nairobi that civil society must take part in the talks.

?The process for negotiations for essential reforms to facilitate free and fair elections at the end of the year has always involved the civil society. This week, when the government finally caved in and accepted the fact, it was a good idea for the country for talks to begin. A team of 12 ministers and members of parliament was assembled by the president for the purpose of negotiating with ODM. They left out the civil society,? he said.

Mutula said the input of the civil society groups is needed, since they would be impacted by any decisions made during the minimum reform talks.

?We in ODM, recognize that whatever we are going to be doing is for the benefit of the country and should involve the civil society. So therefore, we had a meeting with the civil society Wednesday and we had a joint statement and a letter written by the Vice President, Moody Awori, informing the country that we would like to be involved in the process. The reality is that we cannot negotiate on the constitution of the country without involving those groups,? Mutula noted.

He dismissed accusations leveled against the opposition that they are making unnecessary demands.

?I don?t agree at all. We are not changing any goal post. The civil society groups I?m talking about would not be able to come and sit or even vote in parliament.  You have to remember that the bulk of the essential reforms we are pushing for including affirmative action, including the independence of the electoral commission, all of them are matters that directly engage the civil society in any democracy,? he said.

Mutula accused President Mwai Kibaki of playing politics with the minimum reform talks.

?Those who are saying that we are shifting the goal posts are sincerely confirming what we have always feared that the President, when he ordered his government to negotiate with ODM, he was nevertheless, merely playing politics, and not out of a genuine desire for essential reforms,? he pointed out.

Mutula said members of the opposition respect the President?s choice of the Vice President to chair the minimum reform negotiations.

?The President specifically directed the Vice President to chair and to spearhead the negotiations?let me also tell you that Honorable Awori, who is also our vice president, is one man who is the least abrasive, aggressive and arrogant in the government, that is why we show him a great deal of respect,? he said.