Rwanda independents, polls body differ over signatures

Saturday July 1 2017

Independent candidate Diane Rwigara in Kigali after announcing her intention to run for president. PHOTO | CYRIL NDEGEYA

Independent candidate Diane Rwigara in Kigali after announcing her intention to run for president. PHOTO | CYRIL NDEGEYA 

By EDMUND KAGIRE
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Independent presidential hopefuls in the Rwandan election want the National Electoral Commission (NEC) to explain how a big number of the submitted signatures of their supporters were disqualified, denying them a place on the provisional list of candidates.

The NEC last week announced the provisional list of candidates, revealing that out of six submissions made, only the ruling RPF-Inkotanyi’s candidate President Paul Kagame and opposition Democratic Green Party of Rwanda’s Frank Habineza met the requirements.

Independent candidates Gilbert Mwenedata, Diane Shima Rwigara, Philippe Mpayimana and Fred Sekikubo Barafinda failed to meet the requirements and were given five days to resubmit their applications before the final list of candidates is announced on July 7. The window closes on July 5.

Campaigns officially start on July 14 just three weeks to the August 4 election. Rwandans in the diaspora vote a day earlier.

Mr Mwenedata and Ms Rwigara questioned the NEC signature verification process, which disqualified many of their signatories, both of them falling short of the required 600 signatures, at least 12 from each of the 30 districts.

“I had raised 985 signatures and I am told 473 of the people who signed for me were disqualified. Before they signed, we verified that they fulfilled the requirements set by NEC,” says Ms Rwigara who met with the commission last Thursday.

She said that she had covered all districts and added that some of the signatures were disqualified unfairly.

“We are requesting NEC to reassess the signatures and to add back the 150 people it says are confirmed but cannot be added because they supposedly relocated their polling stations from their districts of origin. The most important thing is that they are registered voters. Also, which districts did we did not meet numbers as our records indicate otherwise?” Ms Rwigara said.

Similar concerns were raised by Mr Mwenedata, who said that he was surprised to learn that he did not make the list yet he had submitted 670 signatures collected from the 30 districts.

Verification process

“I made sure I had more than 12 signatures in each district, such that if some are disqualified, I would still have the required 600,” he told The EastAfrican on Tuesday.

The independent candidates met NEC officials on Thursday but say they were denied access to the lists which they provided to see which signatures were disqualified or not, so that they can proceed to look for more.

They were told some of the signatures did not match those on the national IDs.

“We requested NEC to show us which signatures were disqualified but they said they would not. It becomes difficult to know where to begin. Also, some signatures were disqualified on unfair grounds,” said Mr Mwenedata.

“Signatures on the ID sometimes do not look exactly like those on paper because people’s signatures slightly change over time. Some people got their IDs 10 years ago. There should be another way to verify if indeed those people signed or not. We also asked NEC to consider the fingerprints since these don’t change,” he added.

Out of 670 signatures submitted by Mr Mwenedata, only 387 were accepted. According to the NEC, Ms Rwigara is just a few signatures short of the 600 mark. The Commission also said that the candidates did not comprehensively cover the 30 districts as required by the law.

Mr Philippe Mpayimana, a former journalist, managed only 265 signatures and failed to cover a big number of districts. Efforts to talk to him were unsuccessful as he is reportedly out of the country.

Mr Sekikubo Barafinda, whose comical interviews have earned him a near celebrity status, did not submit most of the requirements including the signatures.

Endorsement

Electoral body president Prof Kalisa Mbanda said the list was only provisional and the candidates who failed had five days to fulfil all requirements or risk being disqualified.

Mr Habineza of DGPR and the incumbent President Kagame of RPF did not require signatures as they were endorsed by their respective parties in party congresses to become flagbearers.

Among key requirements for independent candidates are 600 signatures of registered voters with at least 12 from each of Rwanda’s 30 districts. Prof Mbanda said the candidates failed to meet this requirement and now have until July 5 to resubmit their bids.

According to NEC, the signatures are verified against the voter’s district of origin and whether they are registered to vote.

Prof Mbanda said that while all the independent candidates had submitted the required number of signatures, many were found not to be valid during the verification process.

He cited examples of cases where people had signed against the wrong district, while others were not eligible voters.

“We check in the voters’ list to confirm if the person who signed is registered to vote. We also verify if indeed the exercise of acquiring signatures was done in all districts at the sector level and if it wasn’t done, we ask the candidates to do so. On July 7, we will issue the final list,” Prof Mbanda said.

Elections' credibility

Last Thursday, several diplomats including the EU, ambassadors from the UK, South Korea and the US visited the electoral commission to “understand better” the vetting process which left out independent candidates on the provisional list.

According to Michael Ryan, the EU delegation head to Rwanda, diplomats wanted to understand from the NEC’s perspective the process which raised fears that independent candidates could be left out, and possibly denting the credibility of the elections.

The US Ambassador to Rwanda Erica Barks Ruggles through her Twitter handle said that the diplomats had a “frank discussion” with the electoral body on election regulations and “the need for a free, fair and competitive election process”.

She later met separately the independent candidates Ms Rwigara and Mr Mwenedata as well as Mr Habineza who heads the country’s only opposition party.

While presenting their bids earlier, the independent candidates had raised concerns of alleged harassment and intimidation from local leaders during the exercise to gather signatures.

Speaking on June 22 after presenting his papers to the NEC, President Kagame said that no candidate should be harassed or intimidated during the electoral exercise.