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RPF wins parliamentary elections in Rwanda amidst absence of opposition and democratic space.

By Réseau Européen pour l'Afrique Centrale (EurAc)
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BRUSSELS, Kingdom of Belgium, October 8, 2013/African Press Organization (APO)/ -- The Rwandan National Electoral Commission (NEC) announced the final results of the Chamber of Deputies elections that were held on 16-18th of September. The NEC announced that 98.8% of the voting population casted their vote in these legislative elections, which were almost entirely financed by the Rwandese government itself and had the lowest cost per voter on the whole continent.

As expected, the Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF) of President Paul Kagame gained a landslide victory. The RPF obtained 76,22% of the votes casted for the 53 seats available. Similar to the 2008 elections, the Social-Democratic Party (PSD) and the Liberal Party (PL) occupied the second and the third spots, obtaining respectively 13.03% and 9.29% of the votes. Other participating political parties and the four independent candidates did not reach the 5% threshold required for representation in this legislature of the Rwandese lower house.

In line with the Constitution, 24 female members, two representatives from the National Youth Council and one representative from the Federation of the Associations of the Disabled were also elected for the Chamber of Deputies. Because of the 24 seats reserved for women who are to be elected by their peers and because the high number of seats won by female candidates, Rwanda continues to have the world's highest rate of female members of parliament.

The very high turnout is somewhat in contrast with the seemingly low level of interest in these legislative elections, by the population and in the Rwandan media. This is not entirely surprising. The voter's choice was limited to the RPF or parties that do not significantly differ from the RPF, and most major opposition leaders remain in exile or have been jailed. Also, several parties questioned the opportunity of participation, while others faced a difficult registration process.

The League for Human Rights in the Great Lakes region (LDGL) organized a nation-wide civil society observation mission of the elections. In their preliminary statement on the elections, LDGL report: “the voting process was generally orderly, notwithstanding a few isolated incidents”, which include some irregularities during the counting procedures. More generally, they raise concerns about the lack of political space, government influence over the NEC, the cumbersome registration process for independent candidates and the allegiance of partiality of participants in the electoral college of the 24 reserved seats for women. The preliminary statement from the LDGL election observation mission did not contain any commentary yet on the results announced by the NEC.

Rwanda has made remarkable progress towards reconstruction and consolidating internal security after the devastation of the civil war and 1994 genocide, especially with regard to economic growth and the path towards achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDG's). While being an African model on technocratic governance and economic development, political governance is flawed and dissident voices have largely disappeared from the Central-African country. Currently, Rwanda is characterized by a low level of democratic space, with limited freedom of speech and breathing space for the (a) critical civil society. The latter has continuously been thwarted in executing their mission and have often been confronted with interference on behalf of government authorities. Political opposition has been severely weakened by continuous arrests and high administrative barriers to its participation in the public debate. Critical media are almost non-existing in the country.

EurAc therefore urges the European Union and its Member States to:

• Recognize the indicators of fragility of development in Rwanda, by addressing democratic space, human rights and strengthening civil society in Rwanda, which is key to long term stability, development and accountable governance in the country and the wider region

• Continue to put the topic of the narrowness of democratic space on the agenda in its political dialogue with the Rwandan authorities, including the hindering of civil society by government authorities, the difficult environment for political opposition and the shortage of freedom of expression.

• Support independent civil society and media actors, in terms of financial and capacity-building support and political backing

• Develop a clear stance on the question of a constitutional revision running counter to the possibility of political alternation.

• Support the capitalization to document the positive organizational experience of the election for future reference.

• Provide all necessary measures to assist and protect human rights defenders and their organisations when necessary, applying the UN declaration on human rights defenders of 1998.