Rwanda opted for a hybrid political system, and it is paying off

A man casts his vote at Groupe Scolaire Camp Kigali polling station

At the beginning of September 2018, Rwandans went to the polls to vote for Members of Parliament.

The MPs, who took oath of office last week, have now officially begun their mandate.

The entire election process of the legislators presented more proof of the milestones Rwanda has achieved in democracy.

The culture of free and fair elections was manifested throughout the entire process and each citizen was able to rightfully exercise their constitutional right.

Rwanda has 11 legally registered and recognized political parties and all got representation in the 80-member Parliament.

Two opposition parties also managed to win seats for the very first time.

This is, without doubt, another unique example of how power-sharing in Africa can lead to stable and constructive societies.

For Rwanda, the principle of power-sharing is deeply rooted in RPF’s determination to continually strengthen the democratic governance of an unshakable nation.  

A brief analysis of the various political systems shows two prominent models:  The first is the winner-takes-all. This system is characterized by the majority or all of the seats both in government and in the parliament being occupied by the ruling party.

The second most popular political model is the proportional system where parliamentary seats are allocated to different political parties in accordance with the percentage of votes won.

In the event that no party has won the minimum seats required to form a government, the political parties then form coalitions to weave a breakthrough.

However, the challenge with such coalitions is that they are prone to misunderstandings and their fragility compromises their effectiveness and sustainability.

Following the wave of independence across Africa in the 1960s, many countries on the continent adopted systems from their colonialists – ignoring their local contexts and political structures and systems.

Considering that many African societies are tribal in general and that most of the political parties are built on such tribal backgrounds, the two highlighted systems in African societies oftentimes do not result in efficiency, democracy, and governance because they end up excluding some parts of the society, in one way or another.

The resulting dysfunction led to authoritarian politics that spurred military coups across most of the newly independent countries across the African continent, especially from the 1970s until the 1980s.

Since the so-called African democracy and multi-party systems were based on foreign contexts and not local realities, many countries remained fragile.

A number of African countries continue to be marked by never-ending conflicts especially in the aftermath of elections. This is largely due to elections being influenced by politicians who practice exclusion of some sections of their populations.

The third but very rare system in Africa is the consensual democracy.

This involves a certain legalized arrangement to distribute power within different parts of the society.

This form of democratic governance is often adopted following consecutive violent conflicts that are motivated by the selfish desire for power by different groups in the society.

Rwanda took another approach, opting for a hybrid system that has since proven to be efficient.

The country’s democratic governance initiated by the RPF Inkotanyi under the leadership of President Paul Kagame has turned out to be uniquely ingenious.

The hybrid contains a proportional system as well as the consensual system initiated from within the nation itself.

Rwanda’s own new generation of political experts, driven by a strong will to promote the reconstruction of a model Nation State opted for the hybrid system based on strong foundations.

They based on national values and the local Rwandan context, keeping in mind the wellbeing of the ordinary citizen.

It is a well-thought system and the most ideal for a country that had just witnessed politics of exclusion that culminated in the 1994 Genocide against Tutsi.

So far, the hybrid system has produced spectacular results.

This would not have been possible without bringing all players to the table as long as the goal was in the interest of the people. 

Consultative meetings held in Village Urugwiro from May 1998 to March 1999 resolved to adopt an inclusive political governance system that involves all the facets of the national society in the political game.

The constitution 2003 and the revised one of December 2015 are firm on 3 unique realities:

The power-sharing structure - Power is shared fairly between political parties and includes special groups such as people with disabilities.

Additionally, The President of the Republic and the Speaker of the Chamber of Deputies must come from different political parties.

Furthermore, the party that won the general (parliamentary) elections cannot have more than 50% of seats in the government and specific social groups are granted representation in Parliament.

Women who represent more than 54% of the population, the youth who represent more than 65% of the population and people with disabilities representing more than 14% of the population are all assured of slots in Parliament.

During the recent Parliamentary elections, all legally recognized political parties have representatives.  The RPF and its coalition of political parties won 40 seats after getting 70 percent of the votes. PSD got 9 percent, winning 5 seats, followed by PL with 7 percent of the vote and earning 4 seats.

Green Party and PS-Imberakuri both got 5 percent of the vote each and for the first time will have 2 representatives in Parliament.

The remaining seats were reserved for special groups:  Women 24, youth 2 seats, and people with disabilities have 1 seat.

Rwanda’s unique approach to consensual democracy has been nothing short of positive.

In addition to the high voter turnout that averages 95%, there has been remarkable buy-in from Rwandans for the transformation agenda. This buy-in is a result of having a dignified and equal-opportunity country to call home.

This has further translated into rapid socio-economic development and turning the country into an ideal investment and tourism destination.

Prof Habumuremyi is a Political Science Specialist & Habinshuti an International Development Expert.

The views expressed in this article are of the authors.

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