Rwanda’s second ever democratic presidential election is just seven months away. President Paul Kagame is in the final year of his first seven-year term, and will highly likely seek re-election.
The fight for the country’s top seat is expected to attract a host of contenders, as was the case in 2003.
I am one of those who do not believe that it’s still too early to talk and write about an election that is set for August 9.
We’re in mid January, and all those intending to run for the top job will start submitting their candidatures to the National Electoral Commission (NEC) on June 26. How close!
With the election calendar out, NEC is busy updating the voters’ register. The truth is that we’re already in the election period.
This is the right time for Rwandans to start considering their ideal next president. It’s time to evaluate Kagame’s performance for the past seven years and start considering whether or not to vote him back into power, should he decide to run again.
At this stage, the electorate should be scrutinizing the President’s previous election manifesto vis-à-vis his accomplishments or failures, and determine what they need to do to consolidate the registered achievements, or to avoid a repeat of whatever failures that may have transpired under this government.
It’s time to reflect and position ourselves in a situation that we believe will make us able to make the right decision come August 9.
Early voters’ preparation ensures that candidates do not take voters for a ride by promising them heaven, or manipulating them for their own selfish ends.
A well prepared voter will not easily be influenced to vote along ethnic, regional or gender lines. He/ she will understand that ethnicity, or sex has nothing to do with someone’s capacity to lead.
Sometimes we tend to think that people are already aware of what to do. This conception may stem from the fact that Rwandans have always voted in big numbers, and that we have just had parliamentary elections.
According to NEC estimates, there will be 5.2 million voters this year compared to the 4.5 million during the 2008 parliamentary elections. This means there will be an estimated 700,000 new voters.
Most of them are youths who just attained voting age, while others include former inmates and returnees. All these groups need ample preparation just as the rest of the electorate.
The media is the main tool for voters’ education. An enlightened and professional media will help voters make informed decisions on the type of candidate to vote.
These are decisions one has to make much earlier, and not to wait until July 20 when aspirants are expected to hit the campaign trail, or on the polling day. The campaigns will last for 20 days and it’s dangerous for the electorate to remain in the dark until they are confronted by the candidates themselves.
Unfortunately, most of our media outlets do not seem to be taking these elections as a matter of priority, at least at the moment. Many media managers and journalists probably think that there’s still ample time, and therefore, do not need to go out of their way and provide in-depth pre-election coverage at this stage. I beg to diffe.
There’s already a lot that people need to know. Take the example of the proposed changes in the National Electoral Code that is currently in parliament for debate. What are the proposed changes?
Why the revision, and what is its bearing on the voter, the general elections, and our democratization process? From what I gather, suggestions or criticisms from some observers in previous elections have caught the attention of NEC, and could be one of the factors behind the proposed amendments.
With the old National IDs out of use, what will happen to the estimated 400,000 voters believed not to have the new electronic IDs? Will all these people be given the new IDs between now and July, and if not, does that mean they will not vote?
And how about those who may not be registered in the updated voters’ register? Do they have any more chance to register? All these and many others are very important questions that should be answered through the media. Obviously journalists do not make news; they report it.
NEC, political organizations, civil society and all other players, should be the news sources. Although these organs may not easily release information as is the case with many other Rwandans, I believe our media can still squeeze something from them.
A recorded voice of a woman aired during last Sunday’s Twisanzure show – simultaneously live on four local media stations: – painted a rather an embarrassing picture of the situation.
“I just hear that there are elections but I don’t know when the election day is or the names of the candidates,” she said. It’s a situation that needs urgent action.
Such an innocent woman, who is keen on exercising her right to vote, needs to be informed about the whole electoral process and the different stages that are involved.
The most worrying thing is that in such situations, where voter education programmes are not as visible, ill-intentioned characters can easily preach and entrench their negative propaganda. The public needs to be prepared psychologically for this important exercise.
James Munyaneza is the First Vice President of Rwanda Journalists Association (ARJ)