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World News

Kenya's opposition split boosts Kibaki pre-poll

NAIROBI (Reuters) - Kenya’s main opposition coalition has split into two factions ahead of a presidential election in December, boosting President Mwai Kibaki’s chances of re-election.

Kenya's President Mwai Kibaki arrives for the African Union summit in Accra July 1, 2007. Kenya's main opposition coalition has split into two factions ahead of a presidential election in December, boosting President Mwai Kibaki's chances of re-election, politicians said on Wednesday. REUTERS/Luc Gnago

After months of feuding between opposition presidential aspirants Raila Odinga and Kalonzo Musyoka, the pair have parted ways to lead the Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) and Orange Democratic Movement-K (ODM-K) respectively.

Odinga, a firebrand former political prisoner and son of a socialist independence hero, is second to Kibaki in opinion polls ahead of the vote in east Africa’s largest economy.

Musyoka, a former foreign minister and lawyer, is third.

Najib Balala, another opposition leader allied to Odinga’s ODM, confirmed the opposition split to Reuters.

“There has been a fallout,” he said on Wednesday. “Kalonzo has become a lone ranger.”

Analysts had said the pair needed to stay united to have a chance of stopping Kibaki, 75, from winning a second term.

“Multi-party politics in Kenya has been characterized by the segmentation of opposition that nearly all the time leads to the victory of the incumbent,” Chweya Ludeki a senior political science lecturer at the University of Nairobi, told Reuters.

Former President Daniel arap Moi beat a split opposition in both 1992 and 1997. “Against that historical background, the ODM split offers Kibaki a better chance to win,” he said.

Kibaki is popular among Kenyans for introducing free primary education and presiding over healthy economic growth, but receives low marks for corruption and Kenya’s poor infrastructure.

“FINAL FALLOUT”

With power-play taking precedence over ideology as usual in Kenyan politics, Odinga and Musyoka had sought to paper over their obvious differences in recent months as each jostled for the main opposition presidential ticket.

But a split crystallized late on Tuesday when Odinga formalized his position with ODM by taking over the party’s registration documents. Neither could be reached on Wednesday, their aides saying they were locked in meetings.

In language signaling the seriousness of their parting of ways the Daily Nation quoted Musyoka as calling Odinga “a coward” and wishing him “good riddance”.

The Odinga-Musyoka split will spark speculation that Musyoka may consider a reunion with his one-time boss Kibaki -- with whom he fell from grace over his political ambitions -- before the poll. Or he could go it alone to make a three-horse race.

“There have been several allegations of Kalonzo meeting with Kibaki. This is the time the truth will come out,” said constitutional lawyer Mutakha Kangu.

“Odinga has managed to portray Musyoka as a spoiler so he will find it difficult to find public support.”

Political intrigue in the run-up to the December vote has been dominating Kenyan media for months. The Standard termed the opposition split the “Final Fallout” on its front-page.

On the streets, many are fed up with the political in-fighting. But Kibaki supporters were happy on Wednesday.

“ODM is now finished. I am glad because it means Kibaki will come back to continue with the good work he has been doing,” said Christopher Mwaura, a taxi driver in Nairobi.

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