Parliamentary polls yet another vote of confidence in our electoral system

Monday September 10 2018


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As expected, the ruling Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) and its coalition of six smaller parties won 74 per cent of the national vote in the just concluded parliamentary polls.

And as in the previous three parliamentary elections after the genocide, the Social Democratic Party (PSD) and the Liberal Party (PL) came in second and third respectively.

In terms of numbers, the RPF won 40 seats out of 53 directly competed for in the universal suffrage category (since the remaining 27 seats of 80 member-parliament are competed for through electoral colleges for interests groups like women with 24 seats, people with disabilities one seat and the youth two seats); PSD won five seats and PL four with the remaining four seats shared equally been the Green Party and PS-Imberakuri.

The biggest story however isn’t about “which” party won most seats! It’s about the Green Party and PS-Imberakuri that surprised by meeting the electoral threshold of five percent national giving them the right to get representation in parliament despite the odds.

What makes this outcome important isn’t the number of seats won; four seats are insignificant since parliamentary politics is a game of numbers.

Nor is the outcome important because it’s the first time that parties born after the 1994 genocide won the ticket to parliament or because it’s the first time that all the 11 registered parties will be represented in parliament!

Instead, what makes this outcome important is that it has two broad consequences. The first consequence is psychological and the second political.

The psychological impact is both internal to Rwanda and external. Internally, the outcome inspires confidence in both the political and electoral system since it sends the message to individuals interested in political careers that it’s possible even for people outside mainstream parties.

Such perception is critical to nurture the principle of “power belongs to the people” and political culture of peaceful change of leaders. Externally, the outcome undermines the narrative promoted by some opposition politicians, especially those outside the country that elections here are “fake.

This could generate positive psychology about the political and electoral system, which are critical to attract investments and solidify trust in the social contract between leaders and citizens.

The political impact is twofold: First, since the Constitution (Article 62) says that parties that win seats in parliament also “share power” in Cabinet and state institutions, it’s possible that the new kids on the political-block may get Cabinet positions or other positions in institutions of government.

If done, this will strengthen the idea of “political inclusivity” envisaged in the “consensual power-sharing” political system. The outcome also opens up the position of parliamentary speaker and deputy speaker up for grabs.

Ordinarily, we would have predicted that PL’s President Donatella Mukabalisa will retain the position of speakership; not any more since that position is held by the smaller party in the legislature. That isn’t to say that Mukabalisa won’t retain the position.

It is only to suggest that there is no guarantee; although likely since power brokers can’t easily trust new entrants in the legislature whose views or method of work aren’t clear. That said, while it’s politically correct to say there were no losers in this election, I would say we have winners and losers.

The biggest winner is the RPF and proportional representation electoral system they helped create.

This is because, although critics may say the opposition’s win is “symbolic,” there is no doubt it undermines the narrative that the electoral system can’t surprise us.

The second winner is the Green Party and PS-Imberakuri for obvious reasons: The third winner are women who will constitute 54 in the 80-member house at 67.5.

This beats the previous world record of 64 per cent; also set by Rwanda in 2013. And the biggest losers are the dissident parties and politicians outside the country who ride on the story that opposition parties can’t win anything in Rwanda.

The other obvious loser is the PSD and PL. In this election, both parties lost two seats compared with what they won in 2013. Noted thus, I would say that the greatest lesson from this election is that, in politics, patience, resilience and hope pays.

There are also two interesting things about these elections: First, we know which parties won seats in parliament but we don’t know who our MPs are. This is because parties campaign for their lists of candidates rather than individuals campaigning for themselves and explaining who they are.

In addition, the media has not been inquisitive enough to profile who the individuals listed on party lists are — something they have done in the past. Secondly, it was an election less on specifics and more on generalisations about what parties and independent candidates intended to do once elected.

Christopher Kayumba, PhD Senior Lecturer, School of Journalism and Communication, NUR, Lead Consultant, MGC Consult International Ltd, E-mail:; twitter account: @Ckayumba Website: www.mgcconsult.come