The Chairman of the Rwanda National Electoral Commission (NEC) Prof Chrysologue Karangwa, has called on streamlining regional electoral commissions to harness democracy in the region.
Karangwa said this in the ongoing East African Conference on Good Governance that has brought together all the five Partner States of the East African Community (EAC), taking place in Dar es Salaam.
“Electoral bodies must be legally independent so as not to be manipulated by any ambitious political organisation or any foreign influence. Electoral bodies in the EAC integration have to bear in mind that elections are for the people and by the people,” Karangwa urged delegates on Tuesday.
He said that as an indispensable component in good governance, elections must be properly and thoroughly prepared and efficiently conducted.
“This is a paramount responsibility of electoral bodies.”
Karangwa also noted that the ability of NECs to conduct free and fair elections is often compromised by dependency on outside assistance, for sponsorship of the elections. He said at times these funding agencies attach strings to their aid which compromise the independence of the processes.
“It is possible to conduct elections without external assistance because we have been able to do it successfully in Rwanda. We have rejected donor influence; elections are funded by the government and the people themselves who offer to volunteer in the electoral process,” he said.
Karangwa said that that the Electoral Commissions must be accountable to all people, and must not consider themselves in service of national interests.
“The issue of who appoints the Electoral Commission does not matter as long as there are legal provisions on how they are chosen and clear guidelines about rules of procedure. If there are any flaws, the body can be kicked out.”
Prof Karangwa also observed that there is need for the five Partner States to harmonise the electoral process to allow a common calendar for elections in region in future.
“We have to put in place a general code of conduct to govern the different Electoral Commissions that are known by the whole population. We also have to meet as regional bodies and see how to improve the transparency of the electoral process,” he said.
In an interview with The New Times, Prof. Karangwa revealed that Rwanda Electoral Commission has already embarked on civil education for presidential elections due July 2010.
“We need to sensitize our people to own the elections and this makes the whole electoral process easy. When people are aware that the outcome of the elections will determine whether they have a successful future or disaster, they will also participate.”
Karangwa directed Rwanda’s NEC through last year’s parliamentary elections which were highly praised by various international observers as having been well organized, free and fair. He was also NEC chairman during the 2003 Presidential and Parliamentary elections.