There are less than 20 days to go to the much awaited August 4 presidential election. As candidates traverse the nation in search of votes, the National Electoral Commission (NEC) is making final preparations for the August 3 & 4 presidential poll.
The New Times’ Collins Mwai caught up with Charles Munyaneza, the Executive Secretary of NEC, to shade more light on a number of issues.
So far, what is the profile and number of the accredited election observers?
It is normal to have observers whenever there is an election. We have already accredited a number of observers, close to 350, and others are still applying for accreditation. We have local observers who are representing different national institutions and civil society groups, as well as the political parties forum. We have also accredited a number of foreign observers, especially those representing various embassies in Rwanda.
Among the over 350 we have accredited so far, close to 20 are foreign observers. The process goes on until August 3, just a day before the Election Day. Most of them have already begun observing the campaigns period.
What is the basis of accreditation or rejection of the election observers?
We use international standards. The first thing is that you must have vast knowledge of the political process of the country where you want to observe. If you are Rwandan, you must be a registered voter and if you are representing an organisation it must be officially registered.
If you are coming from outside, you are expected to be representing a country or a specific grouping such as East African Community, African Union, European, Union among others.
Speaking of foreign missions, there has been talk of attempts to interfere with the elections by some of them. How ready are you to curb this?
What we have done is to establish a good working relationship with diplomatic missions accredited to Rwanda. We have proper communication with them whenever there is an issue.
We call them or they request to come here and hold discussions and we try to address their concerns. We normally tell them that what we do is based on the law and that we are working for Rwandans based on national laws. We are not sure whether or not they (diplomatic missions) are satisfied and we do not need to satisfy them. Our mandate is to Rwandans.
Whoever else is aggrieved, we explain and clarify certain things, if they do not understand, it’s up to them.
What is the Diaspora voter registration like this time round?
As we speak, we have already registered more than 40,000 voters in the Diaspora up from less than 30, 000 that participated in the referendum. There has been an increase of over 10,000 and the process continues to July 17 (today). What has influenced this is that generally Rwandans in the Diaspora in the past few years have shown growing interest in taking part in Rwanda’s activities. This is evident from a lot of activities, including Rwanda Day in different countries. Rwandan community organisations have mobilised a lot of Rwandans living in the Diaspora which has seen them want to take part in national events.
There is also a lot of political will by the leaders to involve Rwandans. Some countries have previously been experiencing difficulties in voting and requested to be facilitated to vote. Rwandans directly requested for that and we responded. We put in place facilities to register online and increased the polling stations not necessarily within the embassy or high commission premises. We decided that as long as there are 40 Rwandans staying in a town or city, we will open a polling station for them to vote from there.
That has made it easier and the number of people taking part in the elections has gone up.
Such an increase in number is no doubt expected to drive up election costs, how are you faring in that aspect?
Logically, when the number of voters increases, the cost might increase but we did the best to make our elections cost effective. Among the ways is using of volunteers not only in the country but also in the Diaspora. We are working with the Diaspora community and they have given us names of volunteers. That reduces the cost. We also reduced the cost by reusing some of the election materials, such as ballot boxes. As for the ballot papers, whereas in many countries they are printed outside the country, for us we printed them in the country which made it way cheaper.
If you look at the 2010 elections, we spent more than Rwf7 billion when we had about 5.17 million registered voters. Now we are not going to spend more than Rwf6.2 billion when the voting population has risen to 6.8 million.
We have also had new technology coming up, when we talk about public awareness and education, we are working with media and social media which has reduced the cost of elections.
What are some of the lessons you have learned from the previous elections?
There were a number of changes, but each election is unique in its own way. We have made sure to improve. We have introduced outreach using social media which has increased access and reduced costs. We have also been learning from experiences from elsewhere, including the regio. We identified some weaknesses as well as strengths.
We have also learnt from more developed countries’ elections such as America and Europe which more people previously thought were advanced in democracy. From them we have learnt the need to upgrade and secure our database and systems to make sure that no one interferes or manipulates the process.
Despite being an independent body, we have learnt the importance of working together with stakeholders and cooperation.
Campaigns began on Friday, what are your expectations from the candidates and the voters during this time?
There are laws and regulations in place that guide us. We have accredited candidates and hope that they are credible and know what Rwandans want. They know what the country has been through. We hope they behave as per the rules and regulations.
Specifically, we expect them to respect the law and do not expect them to use language or material that might interfere with national unity or reconciliation. We do not expect them to campaign along the lines of ethnicity.
We are not expecting anyone to get votes through bribery or voter buying.
We expect Rwandans supporting the various candidates to respect each other and tolerate each other despite differences in opinion.
Speaking of outreach, what is the role of the public broadcasters?
The candidates will be allowed to use the media. We have put in place mechanism with Rwanda Broadcasting Agency to ensure that, as the law says, all the candidates have access to the public media and can use it during campaigns. It will be free and the public broadcasters offer equal opportunity to all candidates but we hope that they will be responsible in its use.
We are also organising a joint televised debate to bring together the candidates or their representatives. We are challenging the candidates to take this up so that the public is more aware of their manifesto.
During the accreditation process, one of the aspirants, Diane Rwigara, was accused of using signatures of people who had passed on. Is NEC planning on pressing charges?
We are not going to engage in that. What we did was to disqualify her based on that and other minimum requirements that she did not meet. We followed the rules. We are not going to take any further action.
What is the size of the volunteers in this elections?
Right now we have close to 60,000 volunteers. In each village, we have four volunteers. We have taken them through necessary training. We have equipped them with skills and made sure that they understand the code of conduct. We think they are ready, that is a sign of patriotism. We are preparing for them some uniforms as well as some facilitation.