THE CHAMBER OF DEPUTIES yesterday unanimously approved modifications to the Electoral Code. The draft law now heads to the Senate for further scrutiny.
The latest draft had been presented to the lower chamber’s plenary by MP François Byabarumwanzi, the chairperson of the standing Committee on Unity, Human Rights and Fight against Genocide.
Byabarumwanzi explained that changes in the 2010 law were informed by poll observer reports and analysis by the National Electoral Commission (NEC) which indicated that “there were several articles in the law governing elections that needed to be reviewed and modified to be aligned with modern times with intention of enhancing the preparation and good management of elections.”
Parliamentary elections for September
Among the amendments, the Electoral College voting for the 24 female MPs is enlarged to include, members of executive committee of the National Women’s Council (NWC) of all sectors within the electoral constituency; members of executive committee of the NWC of all cells within the electoral constituency; and members of the NWC executive committee at all villages within the electoral constituency.
Voter registration is not compulsory as was previously. The Bill only states that every Rwandan who fulfils voting requirements “has a civic duty to register” on a voter’s register.
Registration is eased by introduction of electronic registration systems.
NEC says this will particulary facilitate the Diaspora community who have had problems to register physically since there are few Rwandan diplomatic missions.
Polls will also start at 7am (from 6am) and end at 3pm, for direct elections.
In indirect elections, however, the time for starting and ending shall be fixed by NEC’s instructions, states the Bill.
Unlike before, the legislation highlights the rights and obligations of electoral observers.
It states that electoral observers shall have rights to: be informed about the electoral calendar; and be informed about where all electoral operations are done; have access to all documents related to elections. Their obligations include avoiding any activity that may disrupt the smooth electoral process and being impartial in electoral activities.
Time for a candidate to review their dossier in case of disqualification before announcement of final list was another consideration. The two-day period previously accorded to a candidate, was increased to five days so that a candidate gets enough time before the final list is published.
Byabarumwanzi said for a person to campaign for the post of council member at the sector, or cell level, they are required to be at least 21 years of age – unlike before when the minimum age was 25 years.
Casting vote may be done through secret ballot or by queuing behind the candidate or by any other voting modality determined by the NEC, according to the Bill.
And in elections where a ballot paper is used a voter may cast their vote using a thumb print or pen, unlike before when the thumb was the only option.
Findings from the 2010/11 Integrated Household Living Conditions Survey, (EICV3), indicate that about 83 per cent of the Rwandans – an increase of about 6 per cent since EICV2 in 2005/06 – aged 6 and above, have ever attended school.
Before approving the Bill, however, MPs raised some concerns.
MP Emmanuel Mudidi supported the modifications but wondered if the change in poll station opening time is ideal.
Mudidi said: “Was an opinion poll made to verify if it really burdens people since normally, there are people who want to wake up early, vote, and then continue with their normal day to day activities? Unless if there was a complaint from election managers, I think voters want to vote as early as possible and move on.”
Byabarumwanzi said the change is based on the logic that polling station staffers, observers and candidates’ representatives “must arrive at the polling stations at least an hour before voters arrive and the actual voting begins.”
MP Juvenal Nkusi, however, expressed his disapproval of what he termed as a tendency to let the country’s elections be influenced by observers. He was reacting to reports that some election observers were critical of thumbprints.
Additional reporting by Jean de la Croix Tabaro.