I have, for months now, closely followed what is being said in the media as well as various political declarations on the presidential term limits in preparation for the 2017 elections in Rwanda.
Through these, I have observed certain ignorance, whether genuine or otherwise, on the content of the concept of political terms of the Head of State, allowing misinterpretation of articles 101 and 193 of the Rwandan Constitution by some political actors and their allies.
According to some, article 101 is irrevocable and article 193 is only about the length of the presidential term and not the number of terms. Such arguments can lead the audience into confusion, which would favour some political opportunists’ interests. This opinion piece seeks to shed light on the scientific content of the concept of
political terms from a political science perspective.
According to Maurice Duverger, a political term is essentially a prerogative given to citizens to confer power to one of them to exercise on their behalf and for their fundamental and strategic interests for a specified period of time and such times they consider it.
The notion of political term refers to both the period and length to exercise power and the frequency or number of times the invested person may be authorized. This translates into a social contract in traditional societies and in a constitutional text in modern societies.
For example, we say that the President of a country is elected for a five year term (length of the term), renewable once or several times (times of the term). Therefore, the notion of length and frequency are inseparable when it comes to political term or specifically to the presidential term.
Regarding the case of Rwanda, the legislator respected this practice. The article 101 of the Constitution stipulates that the President of the Republic is elected for a term of seven years renewable only once.
This is clear, that the notion of political term is considered both into the duration (seven years) and the number of times (twice) that the elected President may be permitted to preside over the country.
When paragraph 2 of Article 101 stipulates that no person may serve more than two presidential terms, it reinforces the notion of the number of times within the concept of political term. However, Article 193 of the same Constitution provides for the procedure for the amendment of presidential terms, which procedure requires a decision of citizens through a referendum.
Contrary to interpretations of some political actors and their allies, when Article 193 states that “if the amendment concerns the term of the President of the Republic .... It must be passed by referendum after adoption by each chamber of parliament”; this article does not specify that the revision concerns the length of the term of office of the President of the Republic, i.e the period of seven years.
As the notion of political term evokes both the length and number of terms, it is the primary sovereign, i.e the people, to choose whether they want to make the amendment concerning the length (the period of seven years), or rather the number of times to exercise the term (i.e consecutive two terms), or both.
In my humble opinion, the voices of citizens that express themselves across the country and the substantial number of petitions to parliament opt for the opening of the number of times a President of the Republic may exercise the power conferred by the population. This is not in contradiction with the scientific content of the concept of political term and thus of Article 101 and 193 of the Constitution of the Republic of Rwanda.
The writer is Chairperson, Chancellery of National Medals and Decorations of Honour.