Rwandans will this year go to polls to choose their representatives in the Lower House.
The last parliamentary elections were conducted on September 15 and16, 2013.
The Executive Secretary of the National Electoral Commission; Charles Munyaneza talked to The New Times’ Nasra Bishumba about the preparations.
This year, Rwandans will go to polls to choose their parliamentary representatives. Has the date been set yet?
Not really. Members of Parliament are elected every five years and going by Article 79 of the Constitution, the President is required to dissolve the Chamber of Deputies in a period not more than 30 days and not more than 60 days before the expiry of the term of the sitting parliament. It also states that it is within that period that the elections must be held. Going by that, we drafted an electoral calendar and right now it’s pending but very soon, it will be approved by Cabinet. Going by the Constitutional and electoral law provisions, this means that the elections will take place in the first week of September. Under the same provisions, the President will have dissolved Parliament not later than September 4.
In terms of preparations, where do you stand now?
After every election, we sit down and do internal evaluation and get ideas from other people who are usually involved in the process like our partners, observers, and we sometimes feel that there are some things that need to be tweaked. After the presidential elections last year, we proposed amendments to the current electoral law. The proposals have already been approved by Cabinet. We hope that we will have the final word on the changes not later than March. We are in the process of preparing regulations which are usually more detailed than the law itself, providing lots of information to both the voter and the potential candidate. We are preparing the voters’ register which should be ready soon after the Genocide commemoration week in April. We will go to all villages and work with embassies to register new voters. Every year, we have new voters, who are usually over 200,000.
We will also obviously have to remove from the register those who passed away and also make sure that those who have moved from one location to another are also able to vote. We do expect approximately 7.1 million voters this year. The number of people continues to rise because of first time voters. We have already drawn the election material purchase plan and, in the near future, we will begin the procurement process. We have some material but we, of course, have some others that need to be bought and by the end of July, everything will be here. Due to the expected increase in number of voters, we will also have more polling stations and obviously the number of volunteers must increase and, because of that, we are planning to start training programmes for them early enough.
We have also started conducting civic education for stakeholders in partnership with teams from the Gender Monitoring Office, National Women Council, members for the forum for people with disabilities, and the civil society. We created a team of trainers. We started at the national level and now we are at the district level. The next phase is that these teams will go to all villages where they will remind voters about the process. We were recently at the youth Itorero [civic education training], where we talked to the students who are joining university.
You just mentioned amendments to the electoral law. Could you shed some light on the changes that you are pursuing?
There is generally nothing really new. What we are basically doing is to make some corrections so that the law is more user-friendly because we have some articles that need to be clearer. We have some that are not in the place where they are supposed to be and, of course, we are working in partnership with the Rwanda Electoral Reform Commission.
When does your commission begin receiving candidatures?
We expect to start receiving bids in the first week of July. We have got an 80 member Lower Chamber of Parliament. 53 are drawn from political parties, 24 represent women and are drawn from the National Women Council, two are youth representatives, and one represents people with disabilities. We shall also be receiving independent candidates.
What is the criteria for one to be a candidate?
You must be a Rwandan and at least 21 years old. You must be a registered voter. You must not have been convicted of genocide and related crimes. You must be a person of integrity.
In terms of funding, how much will be spent on these elections and who is footing the bill?
We are not very scared about funding. We are now used to the government funding elections and, as we speak now, the financial year that is ending in July this year has already catered for some things. We are currently discussing with the Ministry of Finance with regard to close the gap that we have and we are getting good response. Whatever else we may need will be catered for in the next budget. The estimated budget is between Rwf5 billion and Rwf6 billion. The elections are funded by the government but we have in the past received some funds from the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), especially for civic education.
Independent candidates have in the past complained about the threshold that requires them to have at least 5 per cent of the total vote to get a seat in the parliament arguing that it is unfair. Have you looked into that?
We have received a letter from someone who is considering standing in the upcoming election asking that the threshold is reduced to 2 per cent. Obviously, we will respond but this really is not an issue that concerns the electoral commission. It’s in the Constitution and it is in the laws that govern this country. Otherwise, 5 per cent of seven million is not really a big number.
What would you want me to know if I was a first time voter?
The first thing would be to know that you are registered. Our electronic system is open online to furnish you with all those details. Otherwise, anyone who has a national identity card and is 18 and above is in our system. Whether you visit our offices where they are or you come to our offices physically, you can find all that information.
You also need to know what Members of Parliament do exactly. Most people don’t know what parliament is for. We have a training manual to explain all that. It will help to know why you are voting and what the people you are choosing are going to do for you.
This is also the right time for those who intend to stand to start preparing themselves because they have three weeks to campaign and it is also a process that is costly and requires them to start looking for funding right now.