|Voting Gets Underway|
The East African Community EAC has dispatched a team to monitor elections in Rwanda, a new member of the bloc. This tiny East African state is bracing itself for parliamentary polls this month.
The twenty five member delegation led by Dr Aman W Kabourou, a Tanzanian member of the East African Legislative Assembly has already arrived in Kigali, the Rwandan capital to prepare for the job in the elections scheduled for September 15 – 18, 2008. The contingent comprises of five members from the East African Legislative Assembly, and five from the Secretariat.
And according to Arusha officials, the deployment of an observer mission to Rwanda is a further contribution by the East African Community to supporting democracy in the region. The team is in Rwanda primarily to ensure that the electoral process in this once volatile state is smooth. The aim is to see continued improvement in the management of electoral processes in the region.
According to the mission plan, which The Citizen
has seen, the observer team will be deployed in the five provinces of Rwanda that include Kigali city, Western, Eastern, Northern, and Southern. In these provinces, the team is expected to witness the election process in sampled areas in the various constituencies, including the polling stations in line with the Arusha Headquarters’ mandate.
Article 3 of the Treaty Establishing the East African Community requires “…adherence to universally acceptable principles of good governance, democracy, the rule of law, observance of human rights and social justice….”
Rwanda's Parliament is bicameral with two chambers, the Senate (Upper Chamber) and the Chamber of Deputies (Lower Chamber). Now, the National Electoral Commission in Kigali has already confirmed that elections for the 80 Members of Parliament (MPs) of the Lower Chamber will begin on the 15th of September 2008.
As the country warms up for polls, Rwanda’s lower house widely known as the Chamber of Deputies has already been dissolved. The Chamber of Deputies, which was instituted in October 2003 just after a nine year transition in this former central African state’s post-genocide era, was disbanded in mid August by President Paul Kagame.
In Rwanda, the constitution stipulates that parliament shall be dissolved a month to the next legislative polls. NEC officials have said that of the 80 legislators, 53 will be elected for a five year term by proportional representation and 24 will be elected by electoral colleges within provincial councils. The remainder will be appointed by the National Youth Council, and one by the Federation of the Associations of the Disabled. The Iron Fist
However, as the polls draw closer the fear amongst the entire population and the opposition is growing. The oppressive tactics of the ruling Rwanda Patriotic Front of President Kagame against the Opposition has created an uncertain political landscape-of fear and persecution to neutralise its already light-weight opponents most of whom are working under its wings in the so-called “Government of National Unity.”
The opposition members fear to erect podiums especially in rural Rwanda, where the message by RPF has been uniform: parties were the root cause of the 1994 genocide.
In fact, during the 2003 parliamentary elections, a total of eight parties formed a coalition to back the RPF from which it garnered an impressive 70 percent of the votes. It is from this “coalition” that some of the parties under the ruling party’s favour were able to secure some seats in the lower house.
Will the case be different soon? No. I am convinced the opposition has very few options: to remain silent and wait for handouts from Mr Kagame’s political Kitchen or strip their chests bare in the shooting field. Now, with no options in this round, the Political parties in Rwanda are trying as much to read from the same script. They have turned their fate to soft talk. Already, the constitution is not on their side.
It requires each party to attain five percent of the vote in order to win a parliamentary seat, and political analysts have already made their position clear-this is a one-man show in this country whose democratic credentials are increasingly falling under the waters.
Though the issue of continued oppression of the Opposition in Rwanda stands prominent, EAC has strong belief the exercise this time may be fair-in this mission of mutual interest, and that the institution may come up with best electoral practices.
The EAC has played the observer role in Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania but in almost all scenarios the ugly picture was the same, and they are not to blame. And now particularly in Rwanda, EAC must know that the issue is more than fair polls. It’s about changing the tainting politics of RPF, a party that has never seen sense in multiparty politics but cosmetically continues to win “fame” from the International Community in this field.
If the terrain remains the same, then the opposition in Rwanda has no option but to wait for a better landscape in future, which is the prayer of Rwanda citizenry.
By Robert Mukombozi
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