Legislative elections: Voters, stakeholders weigh in on polls

Voters chat after casting their votes at Groupe Scolaire Kimironko I polling station yesterday. Sam Ngendahimana.

At about 4.30am, residents in Kimironko Sector, Gasabo District, were jolted out of their sleep by music announcing that the day to finally cast their vote in the parliamentary elections had arrived.

Not long after that, a male voice appeared on the public announcer reminding everyone that the polling station would be open to the public as early as 7am.

The venue for this particular neighbourhood was Groupe Scolaire Kimironko but by 9am, the only hype in the area was the loud music from the table that had been set up in the compound.

Voters trickled in in intervals, often alone or in duos but besides that, there wasn’t much going on.

Clad in white t-shirts emblazoned with the National Electoral Commission (NEC) acronym, the polling officers leaned on classroom doors, mostly scrolling through their phones, often shoving the phones on the side to offer assistance to whoever appeared.

However, by 10am, the mood had changed. The compound was swarming with activity as groups of four to six began to appear at the school. Quickly, queues were forming and finally, there was a beehive of activity.

The Presiding Officer of Groupe Scolaire Polling Station, François Uwambajimana, told The New Times that the process had been slow earlier in the morning but was picking up faster by mid-morning.

“We have been receiving voters since morning but it is only now that we see the number shooting up. They are coming in bigger numbers and we are sure that by the time the station closes, everyone who wants to vote will have done so,” she said.

The voting register indicated that 9,056 voters drawn from seven cells were expected to cast their vote at the school. The station has 17 polling rooms.

Voters speak

At the polling centre set up in the parking lot of Petit Stade, Remera, The New Times met Patience Arlette Umuhoza who turned 18 in June this year. This was Umuhoza’s first time to vote; something she says she considers a big achievement.

“Since I was 14, I was curious about what really goes on in the voting booth but as I grew older, I was more interested in knowing what a difference my vote will make. This is a dream come true,” she said.

23-year-old Jessica Mutesi was a candidate on the list submitted by the Democratic Green Party of Rwanda.

She told The New Times early on Monday morning that she decided to stand because the Government has given the nation’s youth an opportunity to pursue their dreams.

“I am young but I wanted to encourage other young people to not fear to try. If I win, I will put more effort into pursuing people who make teenage girls pregnant and bring them to justice. This needs to stop,” she said.

Incident free

In an interview, the Police Spokesperson, Commissioner of Police Theos Badege, said that the elections were incident free, attributing this to early preparations by the electoral body.

“We have not had even a single incident since the campaigns kicked off on August 3. The early planning and effective coordination by the electoral commission and its stakeholders helped a lot,” he said.

Badege said that civic education and community policing had also played a significant role in keeping the process organised and calm.

“There was discipline and compliance and we attribute this to civic education and community policing where citizens took ownership of all security related matters and looked up to us only for support. We thank all Rwandans for their positive attitude,” he said.

The Chairperson of the Civil Society Platform, Jean Léonard Sekanyange, said in an interview that the platform had sent out 305 observers in total to monitor the elections.

“We sent coordinators at all the 30 districts, 264 members to polling rooms all over the country, 5 at the provincial level and 6 at the national level,” he said.

He also applauded NEC for heeding to some of the recommendations that the Civil Society Platform had advanced in previous elections.

“We are yet to collect information from all our representatives but, so far, we have received great reports about how people with disabilities were catered for in such a way that this time around, they voted without any difficulties. That is something we are very happy about,” he said.

He also pointed out the readiness of electoral volunteers who he said were much more informed than they were in the last election.

An estimated 7.1 million Rwandans participated in this election, which cost the Government over Rfw5bn.