Today, August 9, 2010, Rwanda partakes of the long awaited presidential polls. Despite the severe criticisms she has faced combined with prophesies of doom and violence from several international media, today’s peaceful voting exercise, is a clear sign that the country is well, in charge of itself.
The people choose their destiny in a free and fair election, thanks to electoral system that is in place to ensure this.
Laying the foundation
To promote Democracy and Good Governance in Rwanda, the National Electoral Commission (NEC), an independent body was put in place to prepare and conduct free, fair and transparent elections.
Since its inception in 2000, NEC has achieved considerably in establishing an independent electoral body that has contributed to the fact that Rwanda has attained an open political space.
In Rwanda, leaders are elected at various levels as mandated by the law. NEC is responsible for their appointment at the Local government elections, Referendum elections, Legislative elections, Presidential elections, and any other elections as may be mandated by the law (such as; Gacaca jurdictions, Conciliators “Abunzi ”, Youth and Women Council).
NEC ensures that these elections are free, fair and owned by the people.
It was in 1991 when Rwanda moved to open up the political space spawning the birth of myriad political parties.
However, many of these and their leaders subsequently participated in the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi.
Genocide being a major factor that has influenced and shaped the history, present and future of Rwanda, those who are proven to have a negative role in the Genocide are barred from participating in the political process by law.
It’s against this background that NEC in partnership with various stakeholders have managed to create a sovereign state that has a commendable degree of stability contrary to Rwanda’s troubled past 16 years ago.
According to Charles Munyaneza, NEC’s Executive Secretary, “elections are seen as part of the continuing rebuilding and development of the country.”
The first Local Government elections were held in 2001. Local elections are backed by the law instituting the organisation of elections of leaders at local administrative entities.
These include leaders at the Cell, Sector Councils, District, Municipality and City of Kigali Council as well as the Executive Committee levels.
To enforce a clearer path towards democracy, Rwanda’s electoral body has embarked on various campaigns to sensitise the public on the importance of selecting their local leaders who represent them from the village level up the hierarchy to the national level.
Through involving Rwandans in the voting processes at local levels, the culture of democracy is understood among the public, and this has further increased their faith in elections. Rwandans have finally understood that democracy is a necessity if Rwanda is to achieve sustainable development.
When fairness begun
In May 2003, NEC conducted the election of the Constitutional Referendum that formed ground for the Presidential elections of August 25, 2003. That was when Paul Kagame became the first democratically elected President of the Republic of Rwanda.
For the first time in 43 years, Rwandans participated in a truly competitive election in which real opposition to an incumbent was present. The 2003 presidential elections are synonymous for being the first ever elections to be conducted by an independent electoral commission.
Rwanda runs a bi-cameral parliament where deputies in the Lower House of Chambers serve a five-year term while Senators serve eight years. The president of the Republic of Rwanda is elected after every seven years and can only run for a 2nd mandate after the first term expires.
With a new constitution and legislature in place, in 2003 Rwanda became a democratic state. This can be attributed to policies instituted by the electoral body that has made Rwandans have high faith in the system to the point that they make decisions that create political accountability in governance.
Today’s Presidential elections are owned by the public where over 98 percent of voters are registered to cast their vote. The proof of the positive energy depicted in this year’s campaigns, will reflect on the results.
Through abiding by the Organic Law n° 17/2003 of 07/07/2003 governing Presidential and Parliamentary elections and, the Law relating to the organisation and functioning of the National Electoral Commission, NEC has laid a foundation for free and fair elections.
Eligibility to vote
The eligible voting age in Rwanda is 18 years. Once a voter has registered at their respective constituencies, they are entitled to a voter’s card—a much needed prerequisite to the ballot box.
Based on the intensive sensitisation campaigns that included civic education at the grassroots, at least 90 percent of Rwanda’s 10million population are aware of the voting process.
The Diaspora is not left out, polling stations in foreign countries with diplomatic missions are already in place and voters were registered at Rwanda’s respective embassies worldwide.
With the advancement in technology, the electoral body has not hesitated to tap into the opportunities presented by Information and Communication Technology (ICT). They are equipped with a modern printer and a team of ICT experts who have been responsible for synchronizing the voter’s registry to the printer in order to produce voter’s cards.
The state-of-the art printer has ensured additional security of materials given the nature of confidentiality and sensitivity of the ballot papers and voters cards—in other words, transparency is guaranteed in today’s elections.
So many, do not want to hear it, so many more do not want to believe it but Rwanda, has become Africa’s bright shining star, a hope for Africa. Rwanda’s elections are real and owned by the people.
With this, Rwandan’s have no time to soothe the disbelief of any doubting Thomases, for this nation treads on the path of democracy.