Rwanda ranks highly in new electoral index

A new report by a global electoral watchdog has concluded that Rwanda's parliamentary elections held last year were the best organised in Africa going by the index on the polls held in 2013. Rwanda was among the 73 countries studied by the Electoral Integrity
A returning officer guides an elderly man at a polling station in Kiyovu last year. (File)
A returning officer guides an elderly man at a polling station in Kiyovu last year. (File)

A new report by a global electoral watchdog has concluded that Rwanda’s parliamentary elections held last year were the best organised in Africa going by the index on the polls held in 2013. Rwanda was among the 73 countries studied by the Electoral Integrity

Project (EIP) through which a perception survey on different local and international experts was conducted on the elections held.

The study also used available statistics on the outcome of polls that included presidential or legislative.

Eighteen African countries went to polls in 2013 and on the global level, Rwanda was ranked 15th.

The report, the project’s first since its inception in 2012, was released yesterday.

The new Perceptions of Electoral Integrity (PEI) expert survey was launched on July 1, 2012, with a major aim of providing a comprehensive, systematic and consistent way to monitor and compare the quality of elections worldwide.

EIP is an independent, non-profit scholarly research project based at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government and the University of Sydney’s Department of Government and International Relations.

Speaking to The New Times yesterday, Charles Munyaneza, the Executive Secretary of the National Electoral Commission, said the new ranking, which was measured against 49 indicators in each electoral process, was as a result of the electoral reforms done since 2003.

“Though we are happy with the ranking, it is not surprising that we are ranked highly. A lot of reforms have been going on and we have continued to update our electoral code, tailoring it to the needs of the electorate,” Munyaneza said.

Overall, Rwanda scored 74.2 per cent while the global leader Norway, scored 86.4 per cent in the legislative elections held last year.

Rwanda is the only African country that is in the ‘high’ category. The other categories are ‘moderate’ and ‘low’.

The indicators on which Rwanda scored exceptionall high include voter registration and turnout and, according to Munyaneza, this was due to the decentralisation of polling stations.

“We had polling stations at the village level and this enabled us to have even the very old or the sick exercise their constitutional right. Our policy is to ensure that people do not travel long distances to vote,” Munyaneza said.

In the east African region, elections were only held in Rwanda and Kenya during the period in review. Kenya, which held both presidential and parliamentary elections, scored 52.6 per cent and fell in the ‘low’ category.

“This report presents the first results of the expert evaluations for all national parliamentary and presidential elections held in independent nation-states,” the report reads in part.

Experts were also critical about electoral flaws in certain long-established democracies, such as Italy and Japan, the report says.

“Most strikingly, the US ranks 26th out of 73 elections worldwide, the lowest score among Western nations.

Experts highlighted concern over processes of redistricting, voter registration, and campaign finance in American elections,” it says.

Commenting about the report, Prof. Pippa Norris, the project’s director, said their work was premised on the belief that several elections in different countries have been followed by widespread concern about their quality, which has at times led to post-election violence.

“Too often elections are deeply flawed, or even failing to meet international standards. This report presents new evidence to diagnose where contests fail to meet international standards- such as in Belarus, Djibouti, Cambodia, and Zimbabwe – and also to celebrate where they succeed,” she said.

Munyaneza said ahead of a busy electoral cycle that begins 2016 through 2019, they will continue to fine-tune where things are not going well.

“We definitely still have some few issues to fix; for instance, most of the electoral staff we deploy during the polls are volunteers. We also want to continue civic education processes to make sure people understand their rights.

We take elections as a service we provide to the people and we want to offer it to the best of our ability,” he said.

According to the electoral calendar, the polls slated for 2016 are for local leaders (grassroots) to be followed by presidential elections the following year, then parliamentary elections in 2018 and senatorial polls in 2019.

Edouard Munyamariza, the President of the Civil Society Platform Rwanda, attributed the good performance in the new index to the flexibility of electoral managers in the country.

He said over the years, every after each electoral process the civil society has been engaged and they have openly discussed any flows identified which are fixed ahead of the next polls.

“There has been progressive improvement at all levels over the years; be it at the preparatory level, they have done a great job, for example last year, all means were used to ensure all voters participated; mobile phones were used in updating the voters’ register which significantly cut the time people had to waste lining up at offices,” Munyamariza said.

Asked where he thought improvements can be made, Munyamariza said they have already given their recommendations to the commission, including ensuring that results from the ballot consolidation process are announced publically at all centres, as stipulated by the law.

He said whereas at many centres this was respected, some of the polling agents acted otherwise. “There is need to further educate not only the electorate about their rights, but also the polling agents on the processes.”

The report has three African countries at the very bottom, with the last being Equatorial Guinea, with 38.2 per cent, while the second and third last are Djibouti and the Republic of Congo, in that order.

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