Potential contenders to take on President Paul Kagame in Rwanda's August presidential elections have begun submitting their bids to the National Electoral Commission.
The exercise began Monday with the NEC chairman Prof Kalisa Mbanda saying that prospective candidates need to confirm the requirements on the checklist provided and that in case of missing documents, aspirants will be given a few days to sort them out.
Frank Habineza, the president and flag bearer of the Democratic Green Party of Rwanda (DGPR), Rwanda's sole opposition party was the first to submit his documents.
He was followed by independent candidates Gilbert Mwenedata and Fred Barafinda Sekikubo.
Escorted by party members donned in the white, green and yellow colours of his party, Mr Habineza submitted all the documents needed to vie for the presidency, including proof of citizenship and a letter confirming that he had relinquished his Swedish citizenship.
“According to the electoral laws, the documents needed to vie include confirmation of Rwandan nationality and single citizenship as well as birth certificate and a letter from the political party noting that 'I am the flag bearer',” he told The EastAfrican.
Other requirements include a criminal record report as proof that that the candidate has not been convicted for more than six months, confirmation that one parent is a Rwandan by origin/ proof of citizenship, certificate of residence and proof that all documents submitted to the NEC are genuine.
Following the submission, Mr Habineza said that his party is facing challenges including threats and intimidation of supporters by local leaders.
“Our supporters are being targeted by local leaders with threats and intimidation. The same local leaders also serve as representatives of the ruling party, something we see as inappropriate,” said Mr Habineza, adding that some of his supporters have been forced to abandon the party due to the threats.
Mr Habineza maintained that he has a chance in the August 4 polls, despite a predicted landslide win for President Kagame, whose party the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF-Inkotanyi) has been buoyed by other key parties in the country declaring they will back the incumbent.
The Social Democratic Party, the second largest party in Rwanda and the Liberal Party, which have been part of the ruling coalition have rallied behind RPF and are therefore not fielding candidates.
Several other small parties have also rallied behind RPF- Inkotanyi.
Mr Mwenedata, an independent candidate also submitted his bid to the electoral commission.
He told journalists that he encountered challenges as he tried to raise the 600 signatures needed from independent candidates -- At least 12 from each of the 30 districts.
“Local leaders made sure that the process did not go as smoothly,” said Mr Mwenedata, who in 2013 contested for a parliamentary seat as an independent but failed to raise the five per cent threshold.
Meanwhile, drama ensued when Mr Sekikubo, who had never declared his intentions to contest for presidency showed up at the electoral commission and announced that he was going to submit his application.
While the NEC was receptive to Mr Sekikubo, the seemingly incoherent 47-year-old failed to produce most of the required documents.
He was given a chance to bring the missing documents in the coming days.
The briefcase-brandishing man later addressed the media in a comical manner, leaving onlookers in fits of laughter.
More independent candidates are expected to submit their bids including 35-year-old Diane Shima Rwigara, and Philippe Mpayimana, a former journalist who also has expressed his interest to contest but claims he is meeting challenges putting together the required documents.
The ruling party will this weekend hold an extraordinary national congress to elect its flag bearer.
The party which has been in power for 23 years has been conducting primaries beginning at the grassroots level, with President Kagame emerging unchallenged.
Nominations close on June 23. The NEC will announce the provisional list of candidates on June 27.
The final list will be announced on July 7 after which campaigns will commence.
Rwandans in the diaspora will vote on August 3 while the general elections will take place on August 4.
Despite a projected landslide win for President Kagame, the elections are promising to be the most vibrant with the opposition and independent candidates adding hype to an otherwise determined poll.