With barely four months to the second multiparty parliamentary elections since the 1994 Genocide, the National Electoral Commission (NEC) has launched a massive campaign to increase public awareness on their role during elections.
The commission has already posted messages on electronic billboards around Kigali City, calling on the electorate to prepare themselves to choose the right people for the 80-member Chamber of Deputies come September 15.
The Acting Executive Secretary of NEC, Charles Munyaneza, told The New Times yesterday that it was just the beginning.
"Very soon we are going to place adverts on billboards across Kigali City and other major cities in the country," said Munyaneza, who also doubles as the Director of Elections in NEC.
He said the move was part of a wider civic education programme which will see the electoral body use various means to reach out to the electorate in the run up to the legislative elections.
The strategic locations of these giant screens erected at such places as the main roundabout in the heart of the city, and at one of the city’s largest junction at Kisementi, Remera, are already paying dividends as they easily capture the attention of most passers-by.
The adverts emphasise among other things the need to hold free and fair elections, electing competent people, and urging eligible voters to ensure that they are dully registered for the exercise.
The clips are mostly in Kinyarwanda and English languages.
"Over the next three months, we shall be engaged in activities to promote voters’ awareness, including holding meetings with leaders from the civil society, religions and journalists to help us reach all categories of voters," he added.
Munyaneza is holding the fort after the post fell vacant recently when the former Executive Director, Damien Habumuremyi was elected as one of the nine Rwandan representatives to the East African Legislative Assembly (EALA).
According to the election calendar, the electorate will pick 53 MPs standing on political party or individual tickets on September 15, while the elections for MPs representing special interest groups namely women, youth and the disabled are slated for September 16, 17 and 18, respectively.
As usual, women will be represented by 24 MPs, youth will elect two while the disabled have one slot in the legislature.
Unlike the 53 MPs who represent the general interests of the public and who are elected through universal suffrage, those who represent special interest groups are elected by their respective electoral colleges.
The NEC official said that the independent commission will start to receive candidatures from political organisations and individuals on August 12 through August 21, with the electoral body releasing the names of eligible candidates on August 24.
According to the law governing the presidential and legislative elections, campaigns for parliament begin within 20 days before the polling day, meaning that political parties/organisations and individual aspirants will hit the campaign trail for the upcoming elections come August 25.
Munyaneza said the campaigns will close on September 13, two days to the polling day. On whether the electoral commission has already secured enough funds to organise the elections, the official said: "So far what we have can do although we are still mobilising for more funds."
He said the available money was taken into account under this year’s national budget, but hastened to add that the commission was in talks with different donors particularly DFID and the European Commission, to help raise more funds.
"I hope we will sign a Memorandum of Understanding with donors very soon," he said without divulging details.
Munyaneza said that the projected budget for the exercise stands at Frw5.8 billion, but declined to mention how much money donors were expected to contribute.
However, reliable sources within NEC intimated to this reporter that the commission and several donor agencies were already at advanced stages of negotiations and that the latter had already dispatched a consultant to work closely with the commission to identity priority areas of assistance.
The source, speaking on condition of anonymity, disclosed that NEC has set up a basket fund into which it expects to receive up to $10.2m (over Frw5 billion) from donors to be used in running this year’s elections as well as presidential and senatorial elections due in 2011 and 2012, respectively.
"If both sides could strike the deal, then the money will be released in phases to take care of the three election categories," the source explained.
By press time, it was not possible to speak to NEC president Prof. Chrysologue Karangwa as he was locked in a meeting.