Kenya’s parliament met for the first time today since mass violence swept the country, and the scenes inside echoed the divisions outside.
Rival politicians clashed bitterly over the disputed presidential vote which was the cause of riots that left more than 600 people dead.
The session was the first time President Mwai Kibaki and opposition leader Raila Odinga were in the same room since Mr Odinga accused Mr Kibaki of rigging last month’s ballot.
Mr Odinga has rejected an invitation from Mr Kibaki for direct talks to resolve the dispute, and mediation efforts have stalled.
Mr Odinga’s party won the most seats in parliament in the same voting. Before today’s session began, both sides stood and applauded when Mr Odinga walked in. But he and his supporters remained seated and silent as Mr Kibaki arrived.
Soldiers were deployed around the building, and some roads in the area were blocked off. Riot police were stationed along nearby streets.
The main business of the day was voting for a new speaker and both sides immediately began arguing as to how it should be done.
MPs later agreed the vote should be in secret, ripped up a couple of dozen ballots already cast, and held the vote again.
“We went into (the presidential) election with secret ballots and you stole it,” said William Ruto, a top opposition party official.
Neither party had the two-thirds majority needed to elect the speaker in a first round vote, and both sides have been courting MPs from minority parties in hopes of winning support. The winner needs a two-thirds majority in the second round, or a simple majority in a third round vote. Independent Kenyan analysts have said that both parties might use bribery to secure votes.
Mr Odinga’s party, with 99 seats in the 222-seat legislature, is backing Kenneth Marende for speaker. Mr Kibaki’s, with 43 seats, is backing Francis ole Kaparo, who held the post until parliament was dissolved last year.
Meanwhile a visit by former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan to try to get both sides talking was postponed several days after he fell ill with “severe flu”.
Efforts by the US and African Union failed last week to bring Mr Kibaki and Mr Odinga together.
Mr Odinga has called for three days of protests across the country to start from tomorrow in 41 locations in defiance of a government ban.
Similar protests earlier this month shut down Nairobi and homes in the city’s packed slums were set on fire by rival ethnic groups.