Political unease as some MPs reject cabinet positions

Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki's bid to reconstitute his government and ease political tension in the country hit a snag on Thursday after some members of parliament appointed to the new cabinet refused to take up their positions.

Kibaki, who named his new cabinet on Wednesday evening, had left out seven key members of the previous administration who campaigned against the proposed new constitution he favoured, which was rejected in a national referendum last month.

The Forum for the Restoration of Democracy (FORD-Kenya), a key partner in Kibaki's troubled ruling coalition, said its members would not accept appointments to the cabinet. FORD-Kenya leader Musikari Kombo, who had been retained as local government minister, said his party had been "short-changed".

"We have been surprised and disappointed that these appointments were made without consulting the FORD-Kenya leaders and without regard to the views of its members," Kombo said after his party discussed the appointments.

Orwa Ojode, a member of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) who had been given the environment portfolio, also declined to take up the post. He complained that important members of his party had been left out of the cabinet and that his Nyanza Province was not adequately represented in government.

About 15 assistant ministers also rejected their posts, citing various reasons.

Some said their political parties had not been consulted before the appointments. Others apparently refused to accept the offers because they belonged to the Orange Democratic Movement (ODM), a loose alliance of politicians from various parties that spearheaded the campaign against the draft constitution.

Kibaki said he had consulted widely in an "effort to reconstitute a cabinet which is cohesive, balanced, efficient and better placed to deliver services to Kenyans."

The new cabinet, which has 30 ministers, including Vice-president Moody Awori, and 47 assistant ministers, was appointed two weeks after Kibaki sacked the previous one. The dismissal came after the draft constitution supported by the president and his key political allies was rejected in a referendum on 21 November.

Some of the influential politicians not reappointed to the new cabinet included LDP leader Raila Odinga, the former roads and public works minister widely seen as the de-facto head of ODM; Kalonzo Musyoka, former environment minister; and Peter Anyang Nyong'o, who served as planning minister in the previous cabinet.

Kibaki did not reappoint controversial former transport minister and presidential ally Chris Murungaru, who for undisclosed reasons had been banned from visiting Great Britain and the United States.

The debate over the new charter split Kibaki's administration, which was formed soon after the National Rainbow Coalition (NARC) won a landslide victory in general elections in December 2002.

Kibaki's administration came to power with a pledge to give Kenyans a more democratic constitution within the first 100 days of its term. Internal wrangling within NARC, however, thwarted efforts to forge a consensus on several contentious issues in the draft constitution.

Some 3.5 million people voted against the charter in a national referendum, compared with 2.5 million in favour.

The rejection of the proposed constitution was widely seen as a significant blow to the president and a political boost for Odinga.

Soon after the proposed new constitution was rejected, the ODM demanded that the government call snap elections, a demand Kibaki’s administration rejected.

The president, while announcing his new cabinet over radio and television, had said his new administration would focus on enhancing economic development.