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Voting has begun in Rwanda’s parliamentary elections. More than 500 candidates from five political parties and four independent contestants took part in the elections that begun on Sunday, September 2nd and lasted three days. According to Al-Jazeera, the elections were to elect legislators for the 80-seat Chamber of Deputies, 24 of which were reserved for women, two for youth candidates, and one for the people with disabilities. The voting took place over 2,500 polling stations across Rwanda and more than seven million registered voters were expected to elect legislatures in the parliament. Polls opened at 7:00 AM and soon enough the Rwandans were casting their votes. According to News24, Charles Munyaneza, the executive secretary of the National Electoral Commission, stated that turnout was high and conducted peacefully across the country. By Monday night results were in and President Paul Kagame, leader of Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF), announced the results. According to AfricaNews, two of Rwanda’s opposition parties managed to win parliamentary seats for the first time. President Kagame declared the results of Monday’s election proof that the country is a democracy, although his party, RPF, won 75 percent of the votes in parliament.
There were many precautions taken to ensure that the elections would be as free and fair as possible. According to African Union, the head of the African Union Election Observation Mission (AUEOM), Mrs. Aichatou Mindaoudou Souleymane, former Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Niger African Union Election Observation Mission, stated that all conditions for free elections will be met in order to ensure that they are conducted freely. To achieve this, there were observers that witnessed the opening and closing processes in the polling stations and observed the voting process in the polling stations across the country. The results of the election have prompted many government officials to praise Rwanda for its democracy. According to Frank Habineza, Democratic Green Chief, the results of the parliamentary election were a positive step forward since two new political parties were successfully able to join parliament for the first time. According to AfricaNews, Habineza also stated that “the Democratic Green party would now continue their work in parliament by participating in the formulation of laws and policies that are in the spirit of democracy, freedom and development.” In addition, in response to the parliamentary election results, Wellars Gasamagera, an RPF spokesman, stated that Rwanda is a democracy and that the Rwandan people have the right to choose freely. However, he also stated that nothing would change going forward because the two new political parties agree with the same political policies that have existed in Rwanda.
The election results have sparked conversation about the nature of Rwanda’s democracy and whether or not people were in fact able to participate in free and fair elections. Although many officials have praised the election results and pointed to them as proof of Rwanda’s democracy, according to The New Times, the Rwanda Investigation Bureau (RIB) recorded four cases of malpractice involving 15 individuals in the parliamentary elections. According to Modeste Mbabazi, an RIB spokesperson, “two ballot boxes were opened and in two separate areas ballot boxes were not properly sealed while two people were caught red-handed trying to vote for others.” Until further statements about the case, it is difficult to conclude whether the elections were truly run in a democratic fashion. Although the election of two opposition parties in parliament is a positive step forward, it is undoubtedly minimal in contrast to the RPF’s influence in parliament. It is important to follow closely and observe whether the two new elected parties will be heard by the larger RPF party. Until then, it will be difficult to assess whether Rwanda’s election results are proof of Rwanda’s democracy.
According to the Brookings Institution, the RPF has retained an absolute majority in the Rwandan parliament since the end of Rwanda’s genocide in 1994. Kagame, the leader of the party is hailed for his role in ending the genocide and he is liked by the majority of Rwandans. Just last year, Kagame was elected for a third term after 98 percent of Rwandans approved a constitutional amendment that granted him the right to run for a third term. This election marks a great turning point for Rwanda because it is the first election post-genocide in which Rwandans have voted for members of opposition parties.
Although RPF has once again gained majority seats in parliament, the election of two opposition parties could set a more democratic tone to Rwandan politics. Having two smaller opposition groups in parliament should start a wide range of policies and issues to address during parliament meetings. These two new groups might be able to introduce newer more democratic policies to Rwanda. By having more political parties together in one space free to discuss and formulate policies, we should expect to see a change in Rwanda’s future policies.