NAIROBI, Kenya — Former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said Tuesday that Kenya would have a solution to its post-election crisis later this week as the country's dueling political parties retired to an undisclosed location for what are expected to be final talks.
However, few details have emerged from weeks of negotiations led by Annan, and it isn't clear what a political compromise would look like — or whether the two sides are even close to a deal.
Annan said that President Mwai Kibaki and opposition leader Raila Odinga — who charges that Kibaki stole December's massively flawed election — had agreed to share power in a coalition government, and that the talks were focusing on the form such a government would take. He also indicated that new elections could be called.
"(Coalitions) come together to try and work out . . . the divisive issues, to make the constitutional and other changes required, and then eventually organize an election," Annan told a special session of Kenya's parliament.
But the head of Kibaki's negotiating team, Martha Karua, later issued a statement denying that the government had agreed to a transitional government or new elections.
"These inaccuracies have caused us distress and great embarrassment as they have misrepresented our position," Karua said.
After weeks of protests and ethnic clashes that have left more than 1,000 people dead and forced hundreds of thousands from their homes, the glimmer of a compromise buoyed Kenyans' spirits. Local newspapers carried banner headlines with Annan's pledge that a deal would come within 72 hours.
Major obstacles remain, however. Odinga has demanded some executive authority, which Kibaki has said he won't surrender. Officials in Odinga's party have suggested that the parliament create a prime minister post for him, but such a move would require a two-thirds majority in a body that's evenly split between backers of Kibaki and Odinga.
Another sticking point is the composition of the presidential Cabinet, which controls Kenya's powerful finance, security and roads ministries as well as other key positions. Kibaki has filled most of the Cabinet with his cronies, and Odinga's party has demanded as many as half of the top positions.
With Kenya's election commission discredited by the December vote — which was so flawed that Kenyan and international observers agree that a recount would be pointless — it isn't clear how a new election would be administered. Annan said that both parties had agreed to form an independent committee to investigate the problems with the last election.
"We agree that it was important not to sweep matters under the carpet, that we need to understand and know what happened," he said.
Despite the hurdles, Western diplomats praise Annan for winning concessions from both sides. For weeks, Kibaki supporters insisted that the opposition challenge the election results in the courts, which are packed with Kibaki appointees. Odinga had vowed to press his campaign with more mass protests, which have caused widespread destruction and crippled Kenya's economy.
"The fact that (talks) are still going on is some kind of progress," said one diplomat, who requested anonymity because he wasn't authorized to speak publicly.
But the official was skeptical of Kibaki's willingness to implement a deal even if one is struck. After winning his first term in 2002 in a landslide, thanks largely to Odinga's support, Kibaki pledged to share power with his rival. Instead he concentrated more power in the hands of his Kikuyu ethnic group, which has borne the brunt of post-election attacks by rival tribes.