Political pluralism is essentially a political system driven by the presence of several political parties differentiated by their political ideologies. The analysis of the Rwandan socio-political history shows that, integral multiparty system was prior to the period of socio-political turmoil of the 50’s to the extent that the collective memory of Rwanda keeps a bad reminiscence of the destructive action by political parties which led to total disarticulation of the Rwandan society.
From September 1959 to May 1960, 20 political parties including four major parties (UNAR, APROSOMA, MDR PARMEHUTU and RADER) were created and led the Rwandan political scene though in a tense and divided environment where sectarian ideologies prevailed. Instead of engaging a democratic process to resolve problems of the Rwandan society at that time, including achieving independence, rebuilding the Nation State and addressing inequalities, political actors of the time preferred confrontation, division and massacres in favour of the Belgian tutelary and missionary authority. The hand of the Belgian colonial authority was predominant with its backtracking against the monarchists of UNAR to favour radically ethnic Hutu-dominated parties, such as PARMEHUTU and APROSOMA.
The political pluralism of the 50’s ceased to be a catalyst for positive change in favour of the nation as a whole but was rather taken over by the Hutu Republican parties which later wreaked havoc by causing massacres and exile of thousands of Tutsi. It is in this uneasy climate that municipal and parliamentary elections were held from 26 to 30 July 1960 and September 26, 1961, respectively.
After independence, political activity evolved into a de facto one-party system and it is in such a context that the municipal, parliamentary and presidential elections were organised until 1965 under the domination of one political party, PARMEHUTU. The Second Republic, which was founded on July 5, 1973, did not foster a multiparty system that had been stifled by the First Republic. The hope of people willing to restore the democratic space was shattered with the creation of a single political party MRND in 1975 whose organs formed a legal censorship machine.
The elections which were held from 1981-1988 under the second republic and under the exclusive control of the MRND, the party State, did not meet the conditions for a democratic election.
The multiparty system revitalised in 1991 by the then democratic forces for change, MDR, PSD, PL and PDC along with the pressure of the liberation war waged by the RPF Inkotanyi in October 1990, was not spared by ethnicity. The latter was not alone; it was one of the strategies employed to ruin Arusha Peace Accords. The multiparty system that was launched in 1991 in a climate of resistance to change by the MRND’s totalitarian power attracted the support of people tired of the stalinist indoctrination of the Second Republic. Unfortunately, most political parties of the time were infected by the ethnic syndrome and the Hutu power radicalism characterised by political intolerance, extremism against Tutsi ethnic group and propaganda for perpetration of the 1994 genocide.
The new leadership of the post- 1994 Genocide Rwanda under the auspices of the Rwandan Patriotic Front, led by President Paul Kagame, drew lessons from a badly tarnished history in order to reinforce its inclusive ideology and initiate a party system that integrates all segments of the Rwandan society. Thus, political pluralism in the post 1994 Genocide Rwanda organises political life in a consensual and integrative manner. Eighteen years after the tragedy of Genocide, all the socio-political forces of the country that are supportive of the ideology of Rwandan national identity participate in the political management of the country. Indiscriminately, secular identity, regional and religious differences and political forces of change are committed to political life through a multifaceted and Legislative Assembly and a government of national unity.
Thanks to Rwanda’s new leadership, the political party system ceased to be the preserve of exclusive identity rivalries to become an actor in reshaping the Rwandan national identity and self-development. An analysis of the political party system in Rwanda since the 50’s until now helps to understand how a political and ideological choice that was made by the new leadership permitted to rebuild an inclusive, reconciled and respected society.
Ethnic-based and selfish multiparty system in Rwanda from 1959-1973
The decade that began in 1950 was rich in socio-political and ideological events that culminated into the ethnic violence of 1959, the overthrow of the monarchy and the advent of the republican order in 1962. After the Second World War, the liberation movement of the colonies had expanded considerably. The UN henceforth recognized the right of peoples to self-determination. In principle, colonies and territories under guardianship were to get prepared for self-determination and independence. However, for Rwanda under the Belgian rule, the political evolution was considered slow by the UN. Observers in different sessions of the UN visits including those of 1948, 1953 and 1954 in the Belgian trust territory, had been unanimous on this point. From a political perspective, political reforms initiated in accordance with the decree of 1952 and the elections of 1953 and 1956 had resulted into a small political opening for some representation of all identity groups within the advisory councils of sub-chiefdoms, chief
doms, territories and the superior council. But ultimately, these councils were always dominated by the aristocratic elite, which aggravated the frustrations of the rising Hutu elite.
So it is no coincidence that the beginning of the second term of these councils, i.e. the year 1956, was the beginning of political protest led by the Hutu political elite. However, at the beginning of this protest, there was no ethnic or racist trend but everything revolved around the analysis of the contradictions of the colonial system. Thereafter, the Hutu elite introduced the ethnic card by denouncing inequalities, injustice, abuses of the colonial power, the electoral system, lack of freedom in the councils, corruption in the courts, the inferior status of Hutu ethnic group both economically and politically, the institution of ubuhake and ownership of pastures.
But at the same time, the Tutsi aristocratic elite did not consider the claims of Hutu political group but gave primacy to the country gaining autonomy and independence while denying the existence of Hutu-Tutsi issue for which the Belgium rule is primarily responsible. This is evident through the positions of the political class of Tutsi and the superior council of the Country.
The first conception represented by the Superior Council of the country and the Tutsi aristocracy was highly critical of the management of Belgian rule in Rwanda, while denying the existence of Hutu-Tutsi problem. Rather, it required far-reaching reforms to prepare the country for autonomy and independence. The second conception, represented by the Hutu movement, less critical of the Belgian colonial power, rather stigmatised abuses and injustices committed against the Hutu group by the Tutsi group in general and, especially, the Tutsi monarchy.
These two diametrically contradictory trends already reflected the existence of a deep and irreconcilable disagreement unless a neutral arbitrator intervened and this could only be, at that time, the Belgian colonial power. But the Belgian power had taken its side that would favour its own interests, that is to say, the Hutu protesting group. This suggested that the existence of these two contradictory aspirations could, in the absence of adequate responses, degenerate into open conflict. And this is indeed what happened from 1959 to 1961 with the creation of ethnic political parties and ethnic violence that plunged Rwanda into mourning until the independence in 1962.
The elections of July 26, 1960 were very important from a political perspective, as they aimed at electing municipal councillors who, in turn, had to choose among them the mayors of municipalities. Elections were scheduled in 299 Municipalities and the number of seats was proportionally limited to 3,125 seats. Given socio-political climate, which was extremely tense, UNAR planned to boycott elections and ordered its members not to participate in these elections.
This party believed that the elections had been imposed by the Belgian colonial authorities and were likely to distort the process of national independence. Despite the boycott, the elections were held as planned and PARMEHUTU won with over 70.4 per cent of votes, i.e. 2390 seats out of 3125 seats. With this score, PARMEHUTU was leading in 211 municipalities out of 299 municipalities of the country. Meanwhile, UNAR scored 1.7 per cent of total seats, i.e. 56 seats, results earned due to the fact that in some territories, its members did not obey its instructions to abstain from voting. As for the other major parties, RADER and APROSOMA, they obtained 209 seats i.e. 6.6 per cent and 233 seats i.e. 7.4 per cent, respectively. The remaining seats were given to the smaller parties that existed at that time, that is to say 243 seats, i.e. 7.9 per cent.
UNAR strongly contested these elections. The UN reacted in its favour by suggesting to Belgium to check circumstances under which the elections had taken place. But due to the complicity of Belgian rule nothing was done since a three-member committee was set up to release a report favourable to the PARMEHUTU party saying the elections had been conducted lawfully despite incidents caused by all parties concerned. Despite UNAR’s claims, these elections were not cancelled by the UN. This instead resulted into the creation, on 18 October 1960, of a Superior Council and a provisional government. This council, led by Joseph Gitera included 48 members from the winning parties in elections of July 26, 1960 with 31 members from PARMEHUTU, 9 from RADER, 7 from APROSOMA and 1 from AREDETWA. As for UNAR, it was absent in the power sharing. Concerning the provisional government formed on 26 October 1960 by Prime Minister Grégoire Kayibanda, it comprised of 10 members, including two Belgian Ministers (Social Affairs and Ec
onomic Affairs) and eight Secretaries of State.
Still in this tense climate, local (municipal) elections were followed by parliamentary elections and the referendum of September 25, 1961, of which the Nationalist Party UNAR obviously became the loser. Of the 44 seats in the National Assembly, PARMEHUTU won 35 seats, UNAR seven seats and APROSOMA two seats. As for the referendum, the results were favourable to PARMEHUTU; 80 per cent of voters were against the monarchy and King Kigeli V Ndahindurwa. Apart from the results of various elections which promised the participation of several political parties, it is worth mentioning that the prevailing political environment was not conducive to transparency of the electoral process.
First the neutrality of the organising authority, that is to say, the Belgian colonial power, was questioned because it had preferred to publicly support the movement of Hutu parties, namely PARMEHUTU. Keen observers report that the Belgian rule had created anti Rwandan elite by recruiting some Hutu leaders to oppose the Tutsi elite who were already beginning to demand autonomy.
Secondly, political participation was uneven; this means that the election period was not favourable to the balance of political forces. It is at the same time that thousands of Tutsis were forced into exile in neighbouring countries, while those who resisted were subjected to abuse, intimidation, imprisonment and even large scale executions. Thus with a multiparty system of the 60’s, the political space for the exercise of political freedom was completely restricted and could not allow a free and fair competition.
It is in these conditions that Rwanda became independent in July 1962 but still under Belgian rule and Catholic missionary who nevertheless strengthened the political position of MDR PARMEHUTU which gradually erased other parties on the political scene.
It was not until 1965 that PARMEHUTU competed alone in parliamentary elections and thus the de facto one-party system was instituted. In the presidential elections of 1965 and 1969, President Kayibanda was the only candidate to succeed himself and was elected with over 98 per cent of votes. This is how the multiparty system, initiated in 1959, evolved into a de facto one-party system and the main political parties gradually disappeared from the political scene in Rwanda. Their lifespan was shortened by several factors some of which need to be identified and particularly attached to the ethnicity system of political parties. Almost all political parties, for instance APROSOMA and PARMEHUTU which were open at the beginning, were born on ethnic bases and turned the then multiparty system into an ethnic pluralism instead of pluralism of ideas.
The single party under the second republic 1978-1988 and a masquerade of political elections
The second republic that began with the military coup of 5 July 1973 was characterised by the suspension of the constitution of November 24, 1962 which was amended on May 18, 1973; the banning of all political activities and removal of all political institutions created by the elections of 1969 including the government, the national assembly and even the Supreme Court. And by definition, it was a start of an unconstitutional regime and therefore undemocratic because it was not by the will of the citizens.
As would be expected, instead of reviving the aborted democracy of the 60’s, the de facto one-party system of the first republic was transformed in 1975 into a single party, MRND. With the advent of the latter, no political activity was permitted outside of the MRND. It is in this context of closed political space that a series of elections at all levels were organised. The weapon of “ethnic majority” used during the first republic was taken over by the Second Republic producing the same effects; power sharing within the Hutu ethnic majority with different proportions depending on whether one was from the north or south or close to the “Akazu clique”. Some opposition existed in some areas despite the screening.
Under the second republic, due to non respect of democratic principles, all national elections (presidential elections of December 24, 1978, presidential elections of 19 December 1983 and those of 19 December 1988, legislative elections of 28 December 1981, those of 26 December 1983 and December 26, 1988) organised under the label of the party-state did not fulfil the conditions for a democratic election. Under the Second Republic, the elections were organised to test the popularity of the party-state and its Founding President. During the highly screened presidential elections, President Habyarimana was able to obtain 97.42 per cent in 1978, 99.85 per cent in 1983 and 99.98 per cent in 1988, respectively. The rules of democracy were always flouted because the people’s will was not taken into consideration. Voters were taken hostage as the regime forced them to vote for candidates favoured by the party-state. But also, it should be noted that the chances were not equal for all citizens who had the ambition to
participate in the political management of the country.
Some corroborating information already indicates that in the legislative elections of 26 December 1988, among 70 members of parliament elected, there were only two Tutsi and no Mutwa while supposedly under the rules of balance, these identity groups should be represented in different sectors of national life in proportion to their numerical strength in the national population. Fortunately, this dictatorship of the party-state was shaken by the wind of democratization of the 90’s. The liberation war of October 1990 waged by the RPF and the political struggle led by the internal opposition in 1991 forced the regime to negotiate the establishment of a broad-based transitional government. Towards the end of the Second Republic and , more specifically in 1991, the multiparty system was revived with the new constitution of June 1991, but its enforceability was to abort after falling in the trap of ethnicity-centred history until the 1994 genocide.
Part 2 of this series will be published in next week.
The writer is the Prime Minister of the Republic of Rwanda