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Kenya sets March 2013 election date

From Lillian Leposo, CNN
updated 7:31 AM EDT, Sat March 17, 2012
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • The general election will be the first since a disputed vote in 2007 resulted in ethnic violence
  • Kenya is currently run by a coalition government after a power-sharing deal
  • Kenya's prime minister wanted an earlier election date

Nairobi, Kenya (CNN) -- Kenya will hold a general election on March 4 next year, the country's Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission Chairman Issak Hassan announced Saturday.

The vote will be the first since ethnic violence followed disputed elections four years ago and left more than 1,000 people dead and 350,000 displaced, according to the Kenya Red Cross.

In that election, both Mwai Kibaki, the incumbent, and challenger Raila Odinga claimed to have won. The post-election chaos escalated into ethnic violence with members of the president's tribe, the Kikuyu, fighting members of Odinga's Luo tribe and other groups.

The two later entered into a power-sharing agreement, with Odinga named prime minister and Kibaki named president.

Setting the date for new elections has been a contentious process.

Under the old constitution, the president had the power to dissolve parliament after which the electoral body would announce the election date. But under the new constitution, agreed in 2010, the election date is already set -- it's in August, every five years.

However, because Kenya is in a unique situation -- it has a coalition government following the 2007 disputed elections -- the president and prime minister have to agree on when to dissolve the coalition parliament to pave way for the electoral body to set an election date.

This scenario generated ambiguity as to when the next general election would be held, which led a group of Kenyans to move to the high court.

The court ruling gave two options. One was that the president and prime minister agree on a date to dissolve the coalition, allowing the election to be called .

The second was to wait for the lapse of the current parliamentary term, which is January 14, 2013, and then hold the election within 60 days after that, as set out in the law.

Since the president and prime minister could not reach agreement, with the president favoring the second option and the prime minister keen to see a 2012 election, the IEBC opted to take the second option.

Odinga's political party, the Orange Democratic Movement, had urged the commission to set a date in December this year.

The commission "should avoid any temptation of serving any sectarian interests through extension of the life of the coalition government," the party said in a statement.

A December date was the preferred option of the majority of the Kenyan people and would be in line with the high court ruling and a recommendation by the Cabinet, the party said.

Kenyans will be keen to avoid any repeat of the violence that swept the country four years ago.

In January, the International Criminal Court ruled that four Kenyan officials, including Deputy Prime Minister Uhuru Kenyatta, will stand trial on human rights violations that are alleged to have occurred after the 2007 election.

Kenyatta and Cabinet Secretary Francis Muthaura are accused of crimes against humanity. Former Agriculture Minister William Ruto and radio journalist Joshua Arap Sang face similar charges.

The men named by the ICC come from opposite sides of the disputed 2007 election. They deny wrongdoing.

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