An uneasy peace gripped Kenya today as the two main political rivals prepared for parliament to open tomorrow.
At the same time former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan is due to arrive to mediate in the dispute between President Mwai Kibaki and opposition leader Raila Odinga which has led to almost 600 deaths across the country.
Mr Odinga accuses the president of stealing his election last month in a ballot which has been mired in so much controversy even the head of the country’s electoral commission has said he does not know who won.
Mr Odinga’s party has called for more protests from Wednesday to Friday in an effort to step up pressure on Mr Kibaki.
Violent street protests nationwide have so far brought chaos to cities and burned countless homes to the ground, leaving 250,000 people displaced.
When the 222-seat parliament opens tomorrow MPs are expected to elect a speaker and a deputy speaker. No party has the needed two-thirds majority to ensure the election of their candidate, setting the stage for intense lobbying on both sides.
“They are on a shopping expedition to buy as many MPs as they can and Kenya’s MPs are extremely buyable,” Gladwell Wathoni Otieno, executive director of the Africa Centre for Open Governance, said with a reference to the country’s pervasive corruption.
Mr Odinga’s party and its allies have 103 seats, while Mr Kibaki and supporting parties have 78.
Leading candidates for the speaker’s post are Kenneth Marende, backed by Mr Odinga’s opposition Orange Democratic Movement, and Francis ole Kaparo, whom Mr Kibaki’s Party of National Unity backs.
As the crisis dragged on, thousands of tourists cancelled vacations. Some hotels in the Indian Ocean coastal city of Malindi have closed down and others are running at just 15% occupancy though January, which is the beginning of the high season.
The International Cricket Council moved Kenya’s Intercontinental Cup match against Namibia from Nairobi to Sharjah in the United Arab Emirates. “The safety of all participants is always our number one priority,” Richard Done, of the world governing body, said.
The violence has taken an ethnic turn pitting other tribes against Mr Kibaki’s Kikuyu people and shaking Kenya’s image as a stable democracy in a region that includes war-ravaged Somalia and Sudan.
The US-based Human Rights Watch group said even people who did not attend rallies have been shot. Witnesses described police gunfire hitting people on the fringes of demonstrations in the slums of the capital, Nairobi, it said.
One woman was hit by stray bullets that penetrated the wall of her home; another unarmed man was shot in the leg; a boy watching a protest from his doorway was shot in the chest.
Human Rights Watch said a police source who did not want to be identified told monitors: “Many of us are unhappy with what we are being asked to do. This ’shoot to kill’ policy is illegal, and it is not right. We have brothers and sisters, sons and daughters out there.”