With less than four months left to the parliamentary polls, Rwanda faces a funding gap for the this year’s elections scheduled for September 3 but the country hopes donors will come in on time to fill the gap.
Appearing before the standing Committee of National Budget and Patrimony last week, the Director of Administration and Finance at the National Electoral Etienne Niyonshuti Kagaba, the head of finance at the National Electoral Commission (NEC), said that the electoral body is waiting for donors to make commitments.
“We have budgeted $3.06m (Rwf2.67bn) for the parliamentary elections. We have a gap of $634,290 (Rwf550m). The money is needed for the preparation and facilitation of volunteers who will work during the polls as well as civic education,” said Mr Kagaba.
According to the official, the commission has some money for training over 27, 000 stakeholders and civic educators but with a shortfall of about $ 462,455 (Rwf401m) for that particular activity.
Some development partners including United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) have offered to support civic education and training aspects.
The commission said it has a budget to finance current activities and hopes by the end of July development partners will have come in to fill the gap but Members of Parliament wanted to know when the amount needed to fill the gap will be obtained.
“You are assuring us that the money to fill the gap will be available but we need to know the exact source of this money or if you will have alternative sources if donors don’t commit,” the Budget Committee Chair Constance Mukayuhi Rwaka prodded.
“We have had cases in the past where foreigners have promise to fund elections and they change their mind later. We need to know if this gap is catered for in the forthcoming budget so that we don’t rely on donors who might not deliver,” she added.
The Minister of Local Government, Francis Kaboneka said that the government is still waiting on the promise of development partners but if it reaches a point, the state would find a solution.
“It is a promise of partners which we can’t confirm right now but we will reach a time and stop counting on them and sit down with the Ministry of Finance and Economic Planning and find a solution,”
“If the money comes, well and good, if it doesn’t we will find a way out,” Mr Kaboneka said.
The Commission is currently updating electoral lists and has invited observers for the polls which the ruling party Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF-Inkotanyi) is expected to dominate.
However with most parties backing RPF during the 2017 President polls, including the big ones such as Social Democratic Party (PSD) and the Liberal Party (PL) along with a myriad of small parties, the ruling party is expected to struggle to accommodate and appease all of them.
“It will not be an easy task to distribute 80 seats to all the parties. The ruling party will have to make sure that all the parties which backed RPF are catered for, lest some will feel left out,” a member of one of the political parties told The East African.
Parties are yet to begin official activities to field candidates but the lobbying is already going on behind closed doors.
Two former Presidential candidates have also vowed to win seats in the country’s parliament and be alternative voices in the house.
Frank Habineza of the Democratic Green Party of Rwanda and Philippe Mpayimana lost to President Paul Kagame in the August 2017 presidential polls, managing a paltry 0.48 per cent and 0.73 per cent respectively against the incumbents 98.79 percent but now hope they can garner the required 5 per cent to go to parliament.
Despite the defeat, both Habineza and Mpayimana say they have started putting together resources and strategies to join the house.
According to Habineza who heads the only opposition party in Rwanda, the Greens are revising their manifesto, repackaging it with a new message which they hope to take to the people by the end of May or June.
“We have our objectives which we always carry forward including promotion of democratic values like freedoms of expression, peaceful assembly, worship, media and all civil liberties,”
“Promotion of human rights and environmental protection are cross cutting issues to us and they will still be part of our manifesto,” said Habineza.
Mpayimana also maintains that losing the presidential election did not end his quest to contribute to the political discourse in Rwanda.
Like Habineza, he says that he plans to bring alternative views in the house other than those of the ruling party and its allies.
“We hope to encourage the debating spirit like it is in other Parliaments, of course without fighting. We will provide positive criticism, challenge policies and provide alternatives,”
We will also be making alternative national budget we hope that will help to make the population understand more the national budget and what the government plans to do for them. It will be a new dawn for Democracy in Rwanda,” Habineza recently told The East African.
RPF maintained a strong majority in the previous parliamentary elections held in 2013, winning 41 seats out of 80.
Their closest challenger was PSD which won seven seats and the Liberal Party with five seats.
Of the 80 seats, 53 are directly elected by closed list proportional representation and a minimum threshold of 5 percent needed to secure a seat.
Local and national councils offer appointments to 27 seats, of which 24 are reserved for women, two for youth and one for the disabled.
Over 5.8 million voters participated in the elections, but the number is expected to surge to over 7 million this year, according to NEC.
The constitution dictates that every member of parliament represents the nation as a whole and not only those who elected or nominated them, or the political organization which seconded their candidacy.
The electoral commission will start receiving bids in July and elections are expected to kick off in the first week of September – with funding not going above Rwf6 billion.
Additional reporting by Ivan R. Mugisha and Leonce Muvunyi