NAIROBI, Kenya — In its first victory since last month's disputed presidential election, Kenya's political opposition narrowly won the position of parliament speaker Tuesday during a rowdy opening session that underscored the deep divisions in this East African nation.
Lawmakers jeered and hissed at each other, with opposition members accusing President Mwai Kibaki of stealing re-election, while Kibaki supporters blamed opponents for orchestrating post-election violence that's left hundreds dead.
The parliament's first meeting showed that the main opposition party and its allies hold a slim legislative majority although its leader, Raila Odinga, lost the disputed presidential election to Kibaki. Kenya's parliament can block legislation and approve or reject budget proposals, signaling challenges for Kibaki.
When speaker Kenneth Marende was elected by 105-101 after three rounds of voting, opposition members whooped and thrust their fists in the air. One member briefly danced the twist.
Opposition leaders continued to charge that Kibaki's re-election was rigged — a position that many local and international observers share — and vowed to press ahead with three days of nationwide demonstrations starting Wednesday. But a spokesman acknowledged that turnout could be low. Government officials have banned the action, and the last time the opposition organized protests, two weeks ago, tear gas and water cannons ended them swiftly.
Internationally backed efforts to arrange talks between Kibaki and Odinga were put on hold again Tuesday after the latest mediator, former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, postponed his trip to Kenya because of illness. Annan's office in Geneva said he had a severe case of the flu and was putting off his trip "for a few days."
Odinga's camp has said it welcomes international mediation in the political crisis, which erupted after Kibaki claimed victory despite widespread reports of irregularities in counting the votes from the election Dec. 27. Earlier this week, one of Kibaki's top Cabinet officials said the government hadn't invited Annan and that his mission wasn't needed.
Rancor dominated the parliament chamber Tuesday afternoon. When Odinga walked into the room, opposition members stomped their feet and greeted him with cries of "President!" When Kibaki entered moments later, the opposition refused to stand.
At the start of the session, both sides traded insults and catcalls. During a lengthy debate over whether to elect the speaker via secret ballot, William Ruto, a top opposition figure, yelled: "We went into the election with a secret ballot. You stole the vote!"
Later, Martha Karua, a pro-government lawmaker, accused Ruto of "plotting murder." Some of the worst post-election violence has come in Ruto's district in central Kenya, where members of his Kalenjin tribe are accused of killing Kibaki supporters.
For much of the session, Kibaki, 76, sat alone in a chair at the front of the chamber, watching the proceedings silently with an expressionless gaze. A few yards away, Odinga, 63, sat in the chair reserved for the opposition leader. By many accounts, it was the first time that the two had been in the same room together since the disputed election, but they didn't seem to acknowledge each other.