Rwanda starts plans for 2017 polls as opposition demands electoral reforms

Sunday September 18 2016

President Paul Kagame of Rwanda

President Paul Kagame of Rwanda. PHOTO | FILE 

By The East African Joint Report

Rwanda is gearing up for the 2017 presidential elections, with the National Electoral Commission (NEC) saying that that key preparations have already started.

President Paul Kagame, who is seeking a third term following constitutional changes in a referendum last year, is expected to win with little opposition going by the referendum results.

In the referendum held on December 19, 2015, 98.3 per cent of those who voted supported an amendment to the Constitution to allow President Kagame to seek a third term.

Only the Democratic Green Party of Rwanda, the country’s main opposition party, opposed the constitutional change. It filed a case in the Supreme Court seeking to block the proposed amendment but the case was dismissed, with the court saying it lacked legal basis.

So far, no one has declared an interest in challenging President Kagame, although the Green Party has declared it will field a candidate if its demands are granted.

Parties want a fair share

Ahead of the polls, smaller political parties led by the Green Party, want a fair share of the national cake, arguing that under its current format, Article 24 of the law governing political parties gives advantage to the ruling RPF.

The Green Party wants the Constitution changed to; allow small political parties and independent candidates share power with the dominant ruling party, abolish the five per cent threshold which parties or independent candidates have to garner in general elections in order to have seats in parliament, and finally it also wants the government to revise the laws on funding of political parties which will allow small parties to accept external donations, arguing that the restrictions in the law give advantage to the ruling RPF party which has a huge resource base.

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Further, the parties want the election law to allow a combination of ballot and electronic voting to ensure more transparency and confidence in the Electoral Commission.

The also want the election authority to allow poll observers to be present at all the polling and tallying centres, and the media to announce results after they have been declared at all levels.

According to Frank Habineza, the president of the Democratic Green Party of Rwanda, if those reforms are not made, the 2017 elections will not be credible.

Parties want to “have it easy”

“If our demands on electoral reforms are not addressed, there will be serious credibility questions,” Mr Habineza told The EastAfrican.

However, according to Senator Tito Rutaremara, a commissioner in, and a senior member of RPF, power sharing cannot be just for the sake of appeasing people, including small parties with no following.

“They only come into politics to look for money and position, but that is not how it works, even in Western democracies.”

“They must build parties from the grassroots, have members, convince Rwandans to follow them and then they can compete favourably,” Mr Rutaremara told The EastAfrican.

The elderly politician dismissed demands for political and electoral reforms, arguing that the parties want to “have it easy” instead of focusing on meriting what they are asking for.

Mr Rutaremara said that RPF has been able to share power with political parties which have considerable presence in the country, including relinquishing high ranking positions such as the post of Prime Minister and Speaker of Parliament as well as ministerial posts, as stipulated by the Constitution.

He defended the five per cent threshold which parties or independent candidates have to garner in general elections in order to have seats in parliament, saying that those who want it removed are people or parties lacking support at the grassroots level.

As the debate for reforms rages on, the NEC Executive Secretary Charles Munyaneza, told The EastAfrican that the training of trainers at the national level bringing together staff of NEC, representatives of political parties and organisations, civil society organisations, national youth, women and people with disabilities, gender monitoring office, political parties forum and others, had started.

“These people will start training and sensitising the general population on the electoral process. In November this year and May next year we shall update our current voters’ register,” Mr Munyaneza told The EastAfrican.

He said that next year about 6.6 million people will vote compared with the 6.4 million people who participated in this year’s local elections.

Elections are slated for early August 2017. The process to procure materials is underway and according to Mr Munyaneza, the NEC should have all materials available by June next year.

“We have also drafted an estimated budget and forwarded it to the government. We have estimated about Rwf5.5 billion ($6.7 million),” he said. The government will fund the elections by over 95 per cent.

“The electoral calendar is not yet approved by Cabinet but elections shall be held early August 2017 because last elections were on August 9, 2010. If elections are scheduled early August, election campaigns shall be in July,” Mr Munyaneza said.