Rwanda parties preach unity ahead of parliamentary poll
Posted Monday, September 8 2008 at 19:27
Political parties that are contesting in Rwanda's second multi-party parliamentary elections since the 1994 genocide are this week mid way the campaign trail.
Despite the pressure of the constitutional requirement of attaining five per cent of the vote in order to win a parliamentary seat, all the parties seem to be making one major call of cooperating with each other.
The small East African country is working hard to prove sceptics wrong in next week's parliamentary elections by attaining full democratic credentials.
The ruling Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF) party which is led by President Paul Kagame as the party's chairman is leading a coalition of seven political organisations which is tipped to win with a clear majority in the polls set for September 15.
The election that will pick an 80-member Chamber of Deputies will be the second in a multi-party setting since the fall of genocide. The Chamber of Deputies is one of the two parts of Rwanda's bicameral parliament. The other one is called the Senate.
In the elections, 53 MPs, with be elected for a five-year term by proportional representation. According to Rwanda's electoral law all contesting political organisations must at least win five per cent of the vote to win a seat in the Chamber of Deputies.
There are also 24 female members who will be elected by provincial councils. Two will be elected by the National Youth Council and one by the Federation of the Associations of the Disabled. These elections precede the senate elections and the presidential elections which are scheduled for 2010.
Despite the fact that the two remaining official opposition parties including the Social Democratic Party (PSD) and the Liberal Party (PL) have since the beginning of the campaigns operated independently they have all called for cooperation with all political parties as a top priority in their manifestos, something quite rare in many of Africa's democracies.
"Our political agenda is to work with other political parties. This is for the good of all Rwandans," said Mr Jean Damascene Ntawukuriryayo the Secretary General of PSD during the launching of the party manifesto last week in Byumba.
The president of the LP, Protais Mitali, while campaigning in Gicumbi district last Thursday said that political parties in Rwanda are meant to collaborate, share ideas, experiences and have the same direction of developing the nation in all aspects.
"PL is committed to working with other political parties in order to put in place the party's political agenda of ushering in justice, development and respect of human rights for all Rwandans," he said. Mr Mitali is also a Minister of Youth in President Kagame's RPF-led government.
Both PL and PSD, currently the strongest opposition groups seemingly pose no threat to the RPF's popularity ahead of the polls in which 4.7 million Rwandans are expected to vote. In the dissolved parliament, PL held six seats and PSD 12 seats.
Because of its popularity, the RPF which is also locally referred to Inkotanyi (the 'invincible') for the bravery they displayed during the genocide that killed close to a million Rwandans and for having returned the refugees that had fled the virulent politics of the past governments has been criticised, with foreign observers suggesting that the Inkotanyi's popularity was suppressing the existence of the opposition.
According to Mr Oscar Kimanuka the Director of ORINFOR, the country's information agency, in the 2003 elections the RPF romped home with 95.5 per cent of the votes in both the parliamentary and presidential elections that ushered in President Kagame as the first democratically elected president in Rwanda's post-genocide era.
In the 2003 elections the first inter-party coalition saw RPF acquiring 73.8 per cent of the vote winning about 33 seats in parliament. Other parties in the coalition acquired a modest number of seats as well with CDP winning 3 seats and PDI 2 seats, PSR and UDPR winning one seat each.
The argument here was that with that kind of popularity the majority of Rwanda careless about an opposition which might not be able to effectively carry out checks and balances on the government.
"Critics wondered about the high voter turnout, but supporters of Rwanda's new found democratic path understood the confidence of RPF's ability to steer the country into a new direction," said Mr Kimanuka
Rwanda before 1994 had all her democratic institutions destroyed by pre-genocidal governments with politics, mainly backed by ethnic ideologies.
To suppress all kinds of scepticism, almost three weeks ago the RPF named an 80 member candidates' list that would represent another grand coalition led again by the RPF with six of Rwanda's opposing political parties for the elections.
According to the National Electoral Commission (NEC) the institution that regulates and oversees Rwanda's electoral processes, 14 candidates of this coalition are representing six parties.
The parties include the Party for Progress and Concord (PPC), PSR, UDPR, Parti de la Solidarité et du Progrès (PSP), Islamic Democratic Party (PDI) and the Christian Democratic Party (PDC). In the coalition, the RPF has presented names out of which 44 per cent are women.
While there is a constitutional provision of a 30 per cent quota spelt out in the Electoral Act, the RPF endorsed 35 female candidates out of 80 to stand in the coalition that could make Rwanda's new parliament, the first female dominated parliament in the world. According to the United Nations (UN) the country right now has the world's highest female legislative representation.
This also means that Rwanda would be the first African country to meet the 50 per quota as stipulated in the African Union's Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights on the rights of women in Africa.
Their own candidates
Election commission boss Prof Chrysologue Karangwa said that the two remaining opposition parties PSD and PL have also presented their own candidates for the parliamentary election with PSD fielding at least 64 candidates and PL presented 62.
Two weeks ago during the launch of the RPF campaigns, President Kagame spearheaded the call for inter-party cooperation. His call was to ensure that the evils that always haunted the past governments are not repeated.
Ever since the Rwanda Patriotic Army, the liberation armed wing of the RPF stopped the Rwanda genocide, President Kagame has worked tirelessly to erase the notion that politics should depend along ethnic lines.
Mr Kagame's liberation group paved way for the country's first post-genocide constitution adopted after a national referendum in 2003 providing for a system that calls for power sharing, with inbuilt checks and balances bearing in mind the country's traumatic and tumultuous past.
Mr Kagame has since appointed cabinet ministers from other political organizations and involved all ethnic groups to unite them as Rwandans.
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