“This is the most successful election ever organised on Rwandan soil. Congratulations to all Rwandans,” declared the Executive Secretary of the National Electoral Commission (NEC), Charles Munyaneza, when asked to give his assessment of the recent presidential election.
Rwandans went to the polls on August 9 to choose the person they hope will steer this nation for the next seven years.
While the election officials may still be wrapping up their post-election activities, such as reports, they are already laying strategies for the local government elections scheduled for next year. “Good, comprehensive and early planning of electoral activities is key to our business,” Munyaneza said.
He added the success is mainly attributed to appropriate tools were put in place well ahead of the polls.
One of the major highlights of the election was that it was organised under a new legal framework. Previously, the country had a string of laws that catered for different types of elections, such as referendum, local government, parliamentary and presidential polls, as well as special interest groups such as youth, women and the disabled.
Each of these elections had its own piece of law. This system was in force until shortly before the latest national election.
The existence of multiple electoral laws presented a big challenge to all the stakeholders involved in the country’s election process, officials say.
New Electoral Code delivers success
“One of the major challenges was that it used to be difficult for people to access each of those laws; they were tricky to use during civic education programmes. They were scattered and not user friendly,” said Munyaneza. He added that, in some cases, the laws contradicted each other, and that it was always difficult to amend one of them without affecting others.
In addition, it was found out that many other democracies use one common law for all kinds of national elections. “Traditionally, we are keen to learn from best practices elsewhere.” The Executive Secretary also indicated that the review was necessitated partly due to genuine concerns raised by different observer missions after previous elections, especially the 2008 parliamentary polls.
That was the basis of revising the different electoral laws and merging them into the new Electoral Code, he said.
Besides amalgamating the election laws into one comprehensive legal instrument, new critical elements were introduced in the law.
One of the inclusions in the new law was the requirement by competing political parties and independent candidates to always give copies of their letters to district mayors informing them about their campaign schedule, to NEC.
Previously, while the Commission was mandated to monitor whether candidates’ campaign programmes have been conducted as scheduled in districts, it received no copies of correspondences between the candidates and districts, which made NEC’s monitoring role difficult.
Similarly, the new law obliges both candidates and the public media parastatal (ORINFOR) to give the Commission copies of any correspondence between them. This is aimed at ensuring that NEC closely monitors how the public media provides equal access to all the competing candidates/political parties.
Candidates got more prepared than before
In addition, the new law provides space between the day NEC has declared the list of candidates and the day on which campaigns are launched. Previously, the campaigns would be launched a day after the announcement of eligible candidates. “This clause aims at allowing people whose applications have been rejected by NEC, or their supporters, to seek legal redress if they deem it necessary.
You will recall that in the recent election, we announced the candidates on July 7 and campaigns started on July 20,” explained Munyaneza. The law stipulates such a compliant should be lodged with the Supreme Court within 48 hours from the time of the announcement of the list of candidates, while the Supreme Court has up to 72 hours to rule on the matter.
Furthermore, he added, the delayed launch of campaigns allows the candidates to prepare for the campaigns “because one is not sure whether he or she will stand until the Commission announces those it has cleared to run”.
Another equally important inclusion in the new law concerns the ballot boxes. The new law requires that every ballot box should be marked with a number that corresponds the one of its respective polling centre.
This would help to trace a ballot box in question in case of claims of ballot stuffing, among others. Secondly, the Electoral Code requires ballot boxes to be sealed during the polling process, which is a departure from the previous practice when ballots would be sealed only after the counting of votes at a polling station.
According to Munyaneza, several electoral observers had also criticised the previous arrangement, saying it provided room for fraud. “What happened in the (August 9) presidential election is that, election officials at every polling station sealed the ballot box after showing those present that it was empty, and unsealed it when it was time to start counting (3p.m). After counting, they resealed the ballot boxes.”
In addition, the new Electoral Code gave NEC powers to declare the final results. Previously, NEC only announced provisional results, with the Supreme Court in charge of releasing final results. That arrangement, however, according to officials, compromised the impartiality of the highest court in the land in case of petitions, because it had technically become party to the election process.
In 2003, following the final results of the presidential election by the Supreme Court, one of the losers, Faustin Twagiramungu petitioned the same court. Although the case was thrown out on procedural grounds, analysts say, it would have presented the court with a big challenge since it was directly responsible for the contested results.
Consolidation and announcement of results
The new Electoral Code also shortened the process of results consolidation, removing both the Sector and Provincial levels from the consolidation chain. In the latest election, polling centres forwarded results to their respective district’s consolidation centres, which in turn sent them straight to the NEC headquarters in Kigali City.
ICT tools, notably scanners, internet and SMS, were critical to the consolidation process, according to NEC officials.
“From our recent experience, the new consolidation process is much quicker and shorter compared to the previous one,” observed Munyaneza.
Asked why it took more time than expected before the electoral commission released the overall provisional results yet partial results had been announced much earlier, Munyaneza said that NEC opted to wait for hard copies of consolidated results from each of the country’s 30 districts.
“We announced the partial results based on the consolidated results from 11 districts which we received through e-mails and SMS. But we had to wait for hard copies from all districts to be able to announce the overall provisional results,” he clarified.
Furthermore, the official said that the Commission needed to first crosscheck the results, and to verify valid and invalid votes, and compare the aggregate votes with the registered voters. “In an election that involves four candidates and four political parties, you need to be extremely careful with the entire process,” said Munyaneza.
Both the provisional and final results were released within the time frame stipulated in the law.
Meanwhile, NEC paid a glowing tribute to all the four candidates and their respective supporters for abiding by the rules of the game. “None of the candidates used unacceptable language during and after the campaigns, which was a major highlight of this election,” observed the Commission’s Executive Secretary. “Rwandans in general expressed good conduct all through and were highly involved in the entire process, from the campaigns to the polling exercise.”
The NEC official partly attributed the smoothness of the election to adequate election budget (amounting to Rwf8.5 billion, 17 percent of which came from development partners.