Rwandans on Monday queued at polling stations to vote for the country’s next parliament. Observers had predicted that Rwanda’s ruling party would not face serious opposition.
When it comes to elections, Rwandans are known to come out in huge numbers. In the last few years over 95 percent of the population went to the polls. Yet although four main parties have registered for the election, the ruling Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) is expected to win most of the votes.
Addressing journalists, Rwandan President Paul Kagame commented: "I don't see any reason why the RPF would not win a big margin even in the foreseeable future." Kagame however denied allegations that his party was repressing political opponents.
At stake are 80 parliamentary seats. 53 of these are decided through the public vote, while the remaining candidates will be elected by special groups a day later. These include 24 women representatives, two elected by the National Youth Council and one representing Rwanda's physically challenged.
Free but not fair?
Musa Sirma, who heads the observer mission from the East African Community, told DW that Rwandans voted freely and without any coercion. He also commented that none of the opposition parties had made any complaints of repression by the ruling RPF ahead of the elections. He however noted that the opposition parties were no match for the RPF. "The RPF looked more funded. So the opposition parties still have a challenge in how they organize themselves, how they fund their campaigns." The independent candidates, he added, actually seem to be more successful than the opposition parties.
The RPF has been in power since it took over the government after the 1994 genocide, when an estimated 800,000 ethnic Tutsis and moderate Hutus were killed by Hutu militias. In the last parliamentary elections, Kagame's RPF won 42 of the 53 seats.
Despite this overwhelming majority, Sirma notes that the Rwandan political system actually contains provisions for power-sharing. "In this country, you find that the winner doesn't take it all. You do not use your numbers in parliament to elect your speaker, who is from the other party,"says Sirma, who sees this as a way of uniting the country in the light of its violent political history. One voter, John Muga, told DW: "I think for those who may not give credibility to these elections have the right to say what they want but I think this is one of the many steps that it will take for Rwanda to become a democratic country."
The success of Paul Kagame's government is seen with mixed views by the international community. In the last 10 years, Rwanda's economy has almost doubled and according to the World Bank it ranks it as the third best African country for conducting business. At the same time, Kagame's government has been criticized for allegedly backing M23 rebels in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo.
In terms of electoral politics, the Rwandan government has also not always had best practices. During the last presidential elections in 2010, two main newspapers were shut down for several months. The leader of the newly founded Green Party also complained of threats to its members.