New draft electoral code to open door to online voter registration

Legislators have started discussions on the proposed amendments to the Electoral Code as government seeks to align it with the current political realities and ease electoral registration process.
MP Alfred Kayiranga Rwasa, the chairperson of the parliamentary Standing Committee  on Political Affairs and Gender (Courtesy)
MP Alfred Kayiranga Rwasa, the chairperson of the parliamentary Standing Committee on Political Affairs and Gender (Courtesy)

Legislators have started discussions on the proposed amendments to the Electoral Code as government seeks to align it with the current political realities and ease electoral registration process.

The draft legislation, once enacted into law, will replace the current electoral code – in place since 2010 – and see voters register, update their details on the voter register or conducting electoral campaigns using available information technology systems.

The law is being amended just before the country enters a new electoral cycle next year, which will start with the grassroots elections ahead of presidential election the following year.

Also expected soon is a referendum, if MPs vote to amend the constitution to accommodate the wishes of the people who demanded that it is amended to allow President Paul Kagame run for re-election in 2017.

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MP Alfred Kayiranga Rwasa, the chairperson of the parliamentary Standing Committee on Political Affairs and Gender, during the scrutiny of the Electoral Code Bill at Parliament yesterday. (Timothy Kisambira)

The draft law will further see National Public Prosecution Authority submitting, on annual basis, a list of individuals with unclean criminal records to the National Electoral Commission (NEC) for eligibility purposes.

Presenting modifications before the parliamentary Standing Committee on Political Affairs and Gender, Local Government minister Francis Kaboneka said alterations were proposed in order to have smooth progress and supervision of elections.

“There was a need to adjust the law to the current policies in place, mostly those relating to ICT that will see willing citizens register or correct information on voter’s cards using online platforms,” said Kaboneka.

This, he said, will also allow candidates seeking elections to transmit manifesto messages using online and offline communication channels; while the law, if it comes into force, will compel prosecution authority to submit, annually, lists of individuals prohibited to have voter’s cards due to the nature of their criminal record.

Giving powers to NEC

Kaboneka said the Bill will also address legalities through which an electoral process with a single candidate is handled. It also gives powers to NEC to nullify an election in case it has been established that the process was marred by malpractices.

Some legislators, however, questioned rationale of giving NEC the powers to invalidate elections that have already taken place.

“It doesn’t add up that much for an institution to organise and conduct elections and later nullify it. It would be more or less like a judge and jury situation, why can’t we have courts coming in to settle arising disputes?” said MP Esperance Nyirasafari, a member of the committee that is scrutinising the Bill.

She asked the government to explain further the eligibility of voters with regards to people convicted of Genocide crimes and or other convicts on different crimes such as aggravated assault. 

“Article 4 of the draft law will need to be aligned with other laws, mostly organic laws and Penal Code, before we know who really is ineligible to vote,” Nyirasafari added.

Responding to the concerns, Charles Munyaneza, the executive secretary of NEC, said the law seeks to make electoral process as easy as possible, adding that there are specific regulations to complement the proposed law.

“In case there are serious disputes  vis-a-vis the outcome of elections, that is where we can refer to respective courts for settlement, otherwise in the interests of time, we can use our capacity,” he said.

‘We will ensure the law captures all means possible, especially on clauses relating to prohibitions of unauthorised individuals to vote and usage of IT facilities, and IT will only be used in cases of registration not voting.”

 

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