Voters across the country yesterday cast their ballot to elect the country’s next members of parliament.
Voting started at 7am and closed at 3pm, but by 9am, most voters had voted.
Voters said the election was properly organised in an environment ‘which allowed free choice’.
The mood and atmosphere at several polling centres was convivial, ceremonial and cordial.
At various polling centres, loud music urging wise voting played, as residents queued to cast their votes.
At some centres, microphones were installed and speakers kept urging residents to come early.
In some areas, residents arrived at polling sites as early as 6.30 am.
Polling stations were heavily decorated in bright colours - Blue, Yellow and Green. Other centres were more innovative – like at Regina Pacis School in Tumba sector of Huye District where a red carpet had been laid for voters.
A total of 5,953,351 Rwandans were expected to take part in the parliamentary elections throughout the country and in the Diaspora.
There were 2,291 polling centres in 2,148 cells across the country and about 15,500 polling stations in 14,953 villages
Elections will continue today for women representatives while representatives of the youth and people with disabilities will be picked tomorrow. Since August, 410 candidates from political parties, special interest groups and independents have campaigned for 80 seats of the Chamber of Deputies.
In yesterday’s poll, voters elected MPs occupying 53 seats that are reserved for members of political parties and independent politicians.
Tallying of votes took place at all polling stations after which results were consolidated at every polling centre and then transmitted to the respective NEC district office.
The district election coordinators were then meant to transmit the results to NEC headquarters in Kigali.
In the capital Kigali, most voters started to throng polling sites at around 9 a.m.
Posters highlighting messages about the importance of carrying out elections were placed at most polling centres in the city, many of them shighlighting the importance of elections in democracy and good governance.
The same promotion messages would also be heard from loud speakers set up at the polling sites.
At APE Rugunga polling station in Kiyovu, some of the voters were facilitated by election officers to get their electoral cards on the spot and cast their votes. The same was observed in other polling centres.
The chairperson of the National Electoral Commission (NEC), Prof. Kalisa Mbanda, who visited several polling centres during the day, noted that Rwandans had made it their habit to turn up early and cast their votes.
There were no reported complaints or serious incidents by press time.
“There is no harassment. People are free and they are voting freely,” he said in an interview, oozing confidence that the country was holding fair elections.
In the Eastern Province, there were 561 polling centres and 3,922 polling stations.
According to NEC officials, the voting ended earlier than anticipated due to early an turn up of voters.
Thereza Musabyemariya, the NEC coordinator in Kabarondo Sector, in Kayonga District, said more than three quarters had voted before mid-day.
According to Jean de Dieu Rutatika, provincial election coordinator in Northern Province, the elections went on well.
A total of 2,122,017 people were expected to vote in the province.
In Gicumbi District, out of over 225,289 voters 90 per cent had voted by afternoon. In Gakenke District officials said out of 201,785 voters, over 80 per cent had voted by noon. Burera District had 194,693 voters, most of whom had voted by midday.
“Elections were well organised and people voted freely and happily in the province without major challenges,” said Rutatika.
But some agents’ identifications did not match their names, he said.
He said they later sorted the issue and the aspirant’s agents were given permission to follow the election process.
In Musanze District, at Ecole Secondaire Islamique de Ruhengeri in Muhoza Sector.
Poll officers showed voters empty ballot boxes before voting started to assure there was no ballot stuffing. The same was expected at all polling stations.
“I woke up early in the morning to come and vote to avoid long queues. These elections are well organised, we hope results will reflect our will,” Siphon Habimana, one of close to 5,000 of voters at the site, said.
“We need MPs who will know their tasks and work in our interest.”
The Northern Province Governor, Aime Bosenibamwe, who also voted from the same site, pointed out that Rwandans know the importance of elections and were eager to vote.
“Rwandans have understood the role of voting, they know MPs are their representatives and work in their interest. We hope elections will be free and all voters will vote on time,” said Bosenibamwe.
At Group Scolaire Kivugiza over 37,000 gathered to vote.
Polling officers said long queues were there only in the morning.
Other centres visited by The New Times such as Nyamagumba where over 7,000 people voted polling officials said more than a half of voters had already voted before 11a.m.
In Nyabihu District of Western Province, 98 per cent of 175,667 voters cast their ballots in morning hours.
“We had free elections; voters turned out in the morning, we finished before time. The district has not registered any irregularities,” said Dieudonne Nkunzurwanda, the District electoral coordinator.
People who went without voter’s cards were allowed to vote since their names were in the register, he said.
“I was very excited by the way polling staff welcomed voters,” said Marie Grace Ndayiragije, a second year student at the National University of Rwanda (NUR). “They are very welcoming.”
Ndayiragije also commended the calmness that characterised the elections.
For 80-year-old Genevieve Nyirarwego, who cast her vote at Ecole Primaire Ngoma, on the outskirts of Huye town, the Election Day was a day of celebration.
Sense of responsibility
According to officials, residents participated massively in the elections. Several polling centre coordinators who spoke to this paper said a large number of voters made it in the early hours.
Some centres The New Times visited, relatively long queues formed outside polling stations minutes after they had opened but diminished with time.
By 10am, residents were coming one by one and spent less than two minutes to cast their votes.
However some other people couldn’t cast their votes mainly because their names were missing on the voters’ list.
Officials said those who couldn’t vote are mainly those who registered from other parts of the country.
Josee Uwamahoro, a polling centre coordinator, said eligible voters were only allowed to vote from the area they registered from.
Political parties in the race include a coalition led by the ruling Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF-Inkotanyi) made up of RPF, Centrist Democratic Party (PDC), Parti du Progrès et la Concorde (PPC), Parti Socialiste Rwandais (PSR) and the Ideal Democratic Party (PDI).
Others in the race are the Social Democratic Party (PSD), the Liberal Party (PL), and PS Imberankuri and independent candidates are Venuste Bizirema, Gilbert Mwenedata, Léonille Mutuyimana and Clovis Ganza.
By Eugene Kwibuka, Jean Pierre Bucyensenge, Stephen Rwembeho and Jean d’Amour Mbonyinshuti