On August 3 and 4 eligible Rwandans in the diaspora and those within the country will cast their votes for the president. Voting will be a nationwide exercise which is critical to individual participation in government. The most fundamental right citizens have in a democracy is that which allows citizens to choose their leaders.
The Constitution of Rwanda recognises the universal suffrage that is equal for all Rwandans – both men and women. The suffrage isn’t limited to vote in political elections, but, equally, recognises the right to be elected. I do believe that no eligible citizens can afford to waive their basic right not to vote for the President, who will serve for a transitional term of seven years.
Constitutional right to vote gives citizens a powerful tool with which to vote their political leaders, as well as not to vote those who may not represent their interests or aspirations.
Besides, not only does the Constitution provide a right to vote, but also enunciates government obligations to facilitate citizen participation in election of their leaders. A stand-alone right to vote is an international standard in democratic constitutions. In fact, a majority of the world’s democratic constitutions have articles or clauses outlining citizens’ entitlement to choose their representatives at all levels of government.
The right to vote under Rwandan national law emanates from international human rights treaties. The right to vote is a fundamental right well-established in international law. The most prominent treaty that Rwanda ratified is the International Covenant on the Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). Article 25 of the ICCPR explicitly extends the right to vote to ‘every citizen,’ and calls for ‘universal and equal suffrage.’
The Covenant recognises and protects the right of every citizen to take part in the conduct of public affairs, the right to vote and to be elected and the right to have access to public service, as earlier said.
However, the earliest UN legal text that contained the right to vote was the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which enshrines the right to vote and the right to public participation in government. Equally, it states that ‘everyone has the right to take part in the government of his/her country, directly or through freely chosen representatives’.
Furthermore, at African level, the right to vote is incorporated in Article 13 of the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights (ACHPR).
As Rwandans expressed their will to change the constitution way back in 2015, they must express the same will to determine the leadership they want. It is important to acknowledge that the will of people is the basis of the authority of government. It would be absurd if people can waive their voting rights, by not participating in the voting exercise.
Every citizen has an onus to participate in a nationwide exercise determining the kind of leadership Rwandans want. Election outcome will obviously reflect the kind of leadership desirable. A visionary leadership, of course. A citizen-centered leadership. A leadership that upholds human rights for all without distinction. A leadership that embraces the current achievements. A leadership that is committed to the path of socio-economic transformation.
While Rwandans are ready to exercise their voting rights, the foregoing need to be guiding ideals of every voter. Because, Rwanda’s future lies in the hands its citizens.
Voting for president is an integral part of democracy. And democracy is not a spectator sport. It is a societal process of which we are part and parcel. If we don’t engage in the democratic process, the democracy is not going to thrive. And it’s also important for us to be role models for our future generation. Democracy matters to us all.
While the right to vote is part of the democracy that is made by the people and for the people, citizens have a right and a duty to vote their political leader. When you have a duty, there’s a sense of moral obligation attached to it. That being said, the Constitution of Rwanda, as pointed out earlier, lists down certain fundamental duties incumbent upon the citizens that have to be fulfilled voluntarily and conscientiously. These duties cover a range of areas like environment, education, as well as to promote peace, feeling of nationality, protection of national property etc.
Though a duty to vote is not mandatory, but it would be a positive action if people do genuinely love their country. Both rights and duties do interconnect at some point, which becomes relevant when you look at your conduct as a citizen of the country. Your right to vote is recognised as a voluntary action that you as a citizen may choose to undertake via adult suffrage, once you have attained majority age, i.e. that’s 18 years.
In a nutshell, your right to vote is a legally recognised power of choice attributed to you as a citizen of Rwanda. You can choose not to vote, but as a citizen, you have a duty to contribute to the voting of the President of your country. Our right to vote obligates us to exercise it.
The writer is an international law expert.