Are current senators eligible for re-election?

A cross-section of senators during a past session. File.

Legal experts and senators are seeking clarity on whether current senators whose eight-year term is about to end can seek re-election in the September polls.

Prior to the current revised Constitution, senators were eligible to serve for an eight-year, non-renewable term.

The 2015 review of the Constitution changed the senators’ term limit to a five-year tenure renewable once.

However, it did not specify whether senators who were serving when the Constitution was revised were eligible for re-election or not.

“The Constitution is silent on this,” said one senator who requested for anonymity.

“You need to be asking these things to National Electoral Commission (NEC); they should be the ones to clarify the matter,” the senator added.

NEC’s Executive Secretary, Charles Munyaneza, said that the current senators who have served eight years in the House won’t be eligible.

He said that consultations with the Ministry of Justice have helped reach an understanding that the current senators are not eligible for re-election because they will have served their eight-year term in the Senate by October 2019.

Moreover, some law analysts believe there is a legal loophole in the Constitution and there doesn’t seem to be clear grounds on which to deny current senators to contest for re-election.

Tom Mulisa, who teaches constitutional law at the University of Rwanda, doesn’t agree with those who say that the serving senators cannot stand again.

“The current Constitution never specified that they shouldn’t come back,” he says.

Citing articles 171 and 173 of the current Constitution, Mulisa argues that a “legal loophole” has emerged because “there are no grounds on which the current senators would be denied eligibility to seek re-election”.

Legal analysts like Mulisa and some serving senators who wouldn’t go on record at the moment have expressed the wish for the Supreme Court to rule on the matter.

Article 171 states that “all provisions of the Constitution of the Republic of Rwanda of 4 June 2003 and its amendments prior to this revision are repealed and replaced by this revised Constitution.

However, persons elected or appointed to a term of office based on the provisions of the Constitution prior to its revision and who are not mentioned in other transitional provisions of this revised Constitution continue to serve the term for which they were elected or appointed to”.

It is in that line of giving transitional provisions that article 173 specifies that “senators in office at the time this revised Constitution comes into force continue to serve the term for which they were elected or appointed to.”

But the provisions stop there, Mulisa says, and the Constitution doesn’t specify whether the senators can run for another term in office, or not.

The expert suggests that, given the fact that the Supreme Court is in charge of approving senators’ candidatures for election, it is high time it gives a clear guidance on the matter.

“I think a Supreme Court sitting on constitutional matters should interpret the provisions of the Constitution, especially article 171 and article 173, to provide guidance on whether senators can contest again,” he said in an interview on Wednesday.

The senatorial elections will usher in the country’s Third Senate, replacing the current one that has been in place since 2011.

The Senate is made up of 26 members; including 12 members who represent the country’s four provinces and the City of Kigali and are picked through electoral colleges, and eight senators appointed by the President of the Republic.

Four senators are designated by the Consultative Forum of Political Organisations, one senator represents public universities and higher learning institutions, while another one is picked from private university and higher learning institution community.

According to the electoral calendar  released by NEC this week, elections are scheduled from September 16-18.

The election season will kick off with prospective candidates submitting their bids to NEC between July 22 and August 9, while campaigns will run from August 27 through September 15.

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