Rwandan opposition politician Frank Habineza was this week nominated by his Democratic Green Party of Rwanda (DGPR) to challenge President Paul Kagame for the presidency in the 2017 election.
By this action, the party has abandoned its earlier threat to boycott the election after its demands for electoral reforms were snubbed by the government.
Explaining the change of tact, the party said participation was more beneficial than a boycott. The move hardly elicited political excitement in a country where the major opposition parties have cast their lot with the incumbent. This largely sets the tone for the poll slated for August 3-4, 2017.
The Green Party became the first opposition party to name a presidential aspirant, and its contender became the second after President Kagame, who threw his hat into the ring in January just after the constitutional amendment that allowed him to run for a third term.
“We want to bring democracy to this country. Democracy does not fall from heaven, it will not come from America or Europe, we are the ones who must fight for it,” Mr Habineza said in his acceptance speech.
The Green Party is the only one that opposed the reform of the Constitution, which was finally adopted in December 2015.
“After deliberations within the party’s political bureau we concluded that participating in the elections was more beneficial than boycotting despite the existing challenges,” said Jean Claude Ntezimana, the party’s secretary-general in a statement.
The Greens, as the party is popularly known, had early this year petitioned the Electoral Commission and parliament, seeking amendments to the election law to embrace a combination of ballot and electronic voting to “guarantee more transparency and confidence in the Electoral Commission.”
They also wanted election observers to be allowed to be present at all the polling and tallying centres and the media to announce results after they have been declared at all the levels.
The party had also sought amendment of Article 28, which requires a party to garner at least 5 per cent of the votes cast to qualify for government funding, and Article 24, which bars parties from receiving foreign aid. The party stressed that the clauses favour the strong parties.
Mr Habineza and the Greens say they have greater chance of becoming the next tenants of “Urugwiro Village.”
“I think people are tired of having had the same president for 20 years. They want change and I have strong support within the army, the police and the people. So I think we have a great chance now,” he was quoted by the Swedish newspaper Dagen as saying.
The party is looking to win its first seats in parliament, and get political exposure as “side benefits.”
With a claimed membership of 200,000 in 18 of the country’s 30 districts, officials say funding will be met by contributions from members through fund raising campaigns.
“We want to put an end to the monotony in the Rwandan parliament and give Rwandans a vibrant opposition that will hold the government accountable,” said Mr Ntezimana.