Opposition Refuses to Swear Allegiance to Kenyan President in Parliament

After promising a showdown like no other, the first parliamentary session since Kenya's embattled elections last month, lacked any knock-down brawls, but tension and drama persisted.

The more than 10-hour session was the first time President Mwai Kibaki and opposition leader Raila Odinga have come face to face since the post-election violence that has killed 600 people and left at least 250,000 Kenyans displaced.

At the swearing-in for members of parliament, Odinga refused to take the oath, swearing allegiance to "the president and the republic of Kenya," instead, omitting the word "president." Members of his party took the opportunity to call Kibaki a thief and a "fraudster" during their swearing-in.

"I swear my allegiance to the president," said member of parliament Ababu Namwamba, as he nodded his head to Odinga.

One of Odinga's deputies, Najib Balala, opened the session by walking into Kenya's National Assembly chambers and announcing, "Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the president," introducing Odinga to standing applause from his party, which made up nearly half of the parliament. A few minutes later, Kibaki was introduced by the National Assembly clerk.

Electing a speaker of the House and deputy speaker were the first order of business, but members from the opposition Orange Democratic Movement refused to cast their ballots in secret, sharing openly who they voted for with members of the party. Member of parliament James Orengo pulled out a parliamentary rule book and declared that he didn't see where it is legislated that votes for the speaker must be cast in secret.

"We went into the elections with secret ballots," he said. "And you stole the election."

Bickering between the opposition and the government broke out over whether the voting should be continued, or nullified and restarted. The debate quickly turned into heated comments surrounding Kibaki's re-election, which Odinga and his party accuse the government of rigging.

"These members are used to stealing votes, and are not ashamed," said Balala. "That is why we don't want secret ballots."

"Some who call themselves honorable are planning murder," said Kibaki's newly appointed justice minister, Martha Karua.

"We are setting a bad precedent," Vice President Kalonzo Musyoka scolded. For nearly two hours, the argument over secret ballots being cast inside parliament continued, until Orengo agreed to ODM members casting their ballots for a new House speaker in secret.

Even during the voting, the tension was palpable. When MP, and newly appointed minister of internal security, John Michuki voted, the opposition hissed loudly, calling him a snake. Yesterday, Michuki rebuffed a visit planned by former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, telling local reporters that Annan was not "invited."

Conversely, when William Ruto, another Odinga deputy walked over to vote, members of the government called out "genocide" and "murderer." Ruto's district is El Doret North, where much of the worst fighting usually takes place.

An ODM candidate was eventually elected as the new speaker of the House, but despite this fact, the opposition continues to call for mass protest rallies in 30 cities throughout Kenya, starting tomorrow and lasting through the end of the week. The government has banned all political protests and has promised to crack down on anyone attempting to attend one.

After failed attempts at negotiation by U.S. envoy Jendayi Frazer, as well as Ghanaian president and African Union Commissioner John Kufor, a new delegation, led by Annan and Graca Machel, the wife of former South African President Nelson Mandela, was supposed to arrive this evening, but the trip was postponed when Annan fell ill.

ODM spokesperson Salim Loane told ABC News that the former secretary-general and his delegation are still expected to arrive sometime this weekend.

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