Parliament has begun the process of reviewing the constitution to allow merging of parliamentary and presidential elections next year.
In addition, Members of Parliament also seeking to “remove, relocate and rewrite” other provisions of the supreme law of the land.
A draft of the revised constitution was submitted by Minister for Justice Emmanuel Ugirashebuja, to the parliament on March 31 and is currently under review by the Chamber of Deputies.
The Chamber is constitutionally allowed to amend all other articles in the Constitution except Article 102 regarding the presidential term, which requires a referendum to be changed.
If approved, over 30 articles, including the title of the constitution, will be altered to pave the way for presidential and parliamentary elections to be held simultaneously and add one extra year to the current parliament.
The draft also proposes to add "regulations" to the list of legal instruments that are considered in Rwanda's hierarchy of laws. This would grant legal power to various government bodies, such as the National Bank of Rwanda, Rwanda Utility Regulatory Authority, Rwanda Development Board, Rwanda Standard Board, Financial Intelligence Center, and others, to implement these regulations with legal backing.
This proposal, if approved, would enforce government regulations as a means of ensuring public compliance with measures such as those implemented during the Covid 19 pandemic. Violations will be punished by imprisonment instead of fines.
Additionally, the proposal seeks to change the title of the constitution to "Constitution of the Republic of Rwanda," removing the dates of adoption and revision. The new constitution will be a 176-article constitution, one article less than the previous version.
If approved, Rwanda’s constitution will have been amended twice in eight years, the latest being the 2015 dum that changed the presidential term from seven years to five years effective after the 2024 presidential elections.
The proposed amendments come a year before the elections, with the ruling party hoping to consolidate its hold on power.
The Democratic Green Party of Rwanda, an opposition political party, has already protested some amendments, saying they do not guarantee fair play among political parties both in parliament and Cabinet.
The party also says the constitution does not offer a level playing field for all candidates in presidential elections.
The party’s president, Dr Frank Habineza, who has also been a member of parliament since 2018, says if the constitution is to be amended, it should guarantee better political space for political parties.
“For instance,”, he says, “when a president is elected, they are constitutionally allowed to allocate 50 percent of cabinet positions to the ruling party and disseminate the other half among other political parties represented in the parliament. That is not the reality as we speak.
The constitution should give provisions regarding power sharing among parties,” Mr Habineza said.