IN their first statement after the conclusion of the August 9, Presidential Elections in Rwanda, the League for Human Rights in the Great Lakes Region (LDGL) criticized the electoral process alleging that in some parts of the country where their observers monitored, people did not exercise their rights to vote but rather others (local leaders) voted for them.
However, this sounds very strange; almost all observers (both local and international) who monitored the elections including those from the Rwandan Civil Society Forum, the Commonwealth, the East African Community, the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA), the International Conference of the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR), the African Union among others noted at the end of the elections that they were free and fair.
They observed that voters were free to express their will through a secret ballot and that there was early and big voter turnout; counting at polling stations was done openly in the presence of party agents and election observers.
The observers credited the National Electoral Commission (NEC) for its strong technical capacity which enabled the delivery of election materials and commencement of polling on time.
Indeed, the campaigns and elections were conducted peacefully, without any incident of violence. The campaigns were not based on ethnicity, but rather the candidates engaged on developmental programs.
In every area/region candidates knew specific problems faced by the population and their promises to the population were in line with finding solutions to those problems.
On the Election Day, polling stations were clearly marked and well distributed within an average distance of two to three kilometers radius.
Under the Electoral Law, every candidate is supposed to be given equal time in publicly owned media. This was highly respected, on television and radio, all candidates were given equal time.
In some cases candidates and their representatives met for a live debate about their political programs that was broadcasted both on the television and radio. In the newspapers, all candidates had equitable space for their campaigns and programmes.
LDGL ignores the comments or observations by other observers and makes its own comments that are ridiculous and based on prejudice.
LDGL alleges that in some areas voters had finished voting by 8:00 a.m, before LDGL’s observers reached the polling stations and therefore signifying that the population was coerced in exercising the right to vote. They alleged that local leaders had collected their voters cards form the population and voted for them.
But the fact that people voted early morning does not mean they were voted for. In the first place the population is not part of the observers that they would sit at polling stations from 6:00 a.m up to when the vote counting is finished. Most of them prefer to wake up very early cast their votes and go to their gardens for their daily activities.
Moreover, most of them did not want to spend hours in the lines under sunshine, since Rwanda is experiencing a hot season.
The two weeks of the Presidential Campaigns clearly depicted who would come ahead of others in votes. The candidates clearly distinguished themselves in terms of support; and the results represented the support each had during the campaigns.
If at all they voted for them, who was dancing for them during the campaigns? Who was testifying for them about what they have achieved under President Kagame’s leadership?
There is no way the RPF would vote for people yet it had overwhelming support. Moreover, if people had already cast their vote, why would they stay in long lines for hours doing nothing?
According to the Electoral law the vote was scheduled to start at 6:00 a.m and end at 3:00 p.m. However, by 5:00 a.m most voters were already in long lines at their respective polling rooms with their voter cards, waiting for time and polling agents to start the process.
The political party representatives and observers were also already observing how the polling agents were preparing to start the exercise.
Several journalists were at various polling stations making live broadcasts about the people in long lines waiting to vote. It’s therefore not strange that in two to three hours most of the polling stations had finished to vote.
What is rather strange is an observer to reach his station of observation two or more hours after the start of the voting and start making assumptions that since people had finished voting by his arrival, something must have taken place.
Further more, according to the way the election was organized, it was not surprising that in two hours a big percentage of people could finish voting. The polling rooms were organized according to villages-the lowest administrative level under Rwanda’s decentralized administrative system.
This facilitated the elections in the sense that each polling room was to be used by a reasonable number of voters and people would not move long distances from their homes to the polling stations.
It is surprising that LDGL turns this constructive innovation to be a critic, arguing that it can easily compromise the secret nature of the vote. But one understands that the secrecy of voting is not maintained depending on how close or decentralized the voting rooms are but rather how private the rooms are.
In reality, secrecy of the vote resided inside the polling room, where the voters cast their votes. In this sense, knowing who did or didn’t vote, though one is not sure it was possible, does not jeopardize the secrecy of the vote. The only thing that would violate secrecy would be to know who voted for who among the four candidates.
The problem is that some commentators have fixed their minds that elections in Africa must be marred by violence, confrontation of candidates and their supporters, political parties pulling out of the elections, etc. Unsurprisingly LDGL was expecting the same thing to happen in Rwanda during the presidential elections.
But such things depend on the electoral sociology of a given country—the actors, the rules and the whole political system. Each country has its own way of doing things and no one should assume that what happened in one country should take place in another.
Besides, what is important is that the final vote did reflect the will of the people of Rwanda. Judging by the mammoth rallies that characterized President Kagame’s campaigns, there was really no cause for any RPF member to engage in any malpractice.
Therefore, LDGL needs to retract the statement because it lacks credibility and raises a lot of questions over the organisation’s intentions.