Today is the 10th Parliament’s inaugural session which opened at 2.30 this afternoon, fortunately the ‘no live TV broadcasts’ ban has been lifted on this event, so we can all watch it unfold on local tv. It was the first time that Odinga and Kibaki came face to face since the election and both leaders refused to acknowledge one another. We were expecting a bit of a bun fight, as the ODM opposition party had vowed they would occupy the ruling party’s seats once in the House – fortunately this did not seem to happen. Raila Odinga’s party appeared together, united and all sporting jolly orange handkerchiefs in their jacket pockets. Both PNU parties and ODM made good use of last weekend to retreat and discuss strategy, also lobbying MPs to make their allegiances known in the battleground that is Kenyan politics today. Both PNU and ODM arrived in Parliament looking confident of their positions. However, tempers soon flared as disagreement over the best voting method for electing Speaker of the House raged for one hour before it was able to be commenced.
The job of Parliament this afternoon is to elect a speaker of the house and swear in 207 new MPs. There are four contenders for speaker. PNU are pushing for Kaparo who has been speaker for the past 15 years and ODM are voting for newcomer Marende. In the first round of voting (which can go to three rounds) Marende came up top with x104 votes v. x99 for Kaparo. The other two received a couple or no votes, so the contest goes on being head to head between two parties. The second round is ongoing because in the first, the majority vote was not clear enough. If there is no clear majority in this second round, a third round will take place where the candidate with most votes will win the position regardless of margins. The TV cameras are showing frantic discussion taking place between MPs in the wings. It’s already 6pm so it looks like it’s going to be a long session. Imagine if you had won a seat in Parliament for a smaller party and now were unsure of which team to back? It could be all or nothing, which will be the winning side?
Roads in the centre of town have been closed off and shops closed in the CBD this afternoon, presumably in order to prevent crowds gathering near Parliament. Our schools have been a bit up in the air and confused about how to play things this week, with Parliament convening today (people feared an explosive outcome) followed by three days of mass rally planned, but still banned by police in spite of heavy international pressure to ‘observe the people’s right to assembly’. My daughter’s kindergarten closed at lunchtime and my eldest daughter’s school sent a letter out yesterday saying; ‘we quite understand if at any stage you do not wish to send your child to school this week, but please let us know in advance of your decision.’
Meanwhile, the children included in the number of x300,000 displaced Kenyans have not been able to return to school (local newspapers say approx 30,000 kids) and others have returned to find schools burned out in the post election violence (at least x12 schools were torched in North Rift region). In addition, many schools are being used as refuge for people who have fled their homes and other schools and colleges remain closed 'until further notice'. I received a text just now from a school mum who was trying to organise her daughter’s birthday party; ‘Lets hope this week goes without any riots…’
So far today, I have to hand it to those in Parliament now for keeping their heads, acting responsibly, managing to keep a bit of a lid on their anger and putting bums on seats (ie actually attending). A small triumph for Raila Odinga’s party today in the house perhaps could help a little in diffusing the unresolved situation. It continues to be a case of ‘watch this space’.