Rwanda Election: Kagame will run; U.S. criticizes process

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Election Date: August 9, 2010

At stake: President

Background

Rwanda was a Belgian colony until Jul.1, 1962. In the 1930s, Belgian rulers demanded that people carry identification containing their ethnic descent: Hutu or Tutsi.

Rwanda’s two main ethnicities became infamous in the 1990s when their rivalries escalated into a bloody confrontation and then in genocide. Over 800,000 people died.

In October 1990, the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), assembled by Tutsi rebels that had fled to Uganda, invaded Rwanda and tried to topple the Hutu-led government. In 1993, the RPF and the Hutu leadership signed a peace accord that sought to establish a power-sharing administration.

On Apr. 6, 1994, a plane carrying Rwandan president Juvenal Habyarimana and Burundian president Cyprian Ntayamira was shot down—reportedly by a rocket—near Rwanda’s capital Kigali. Both presidents were Hutu. It was never clear who was behind the attack.

Both Burundi and Rwanda were already experiencing ethnic conflicts at this point. The killing of both presidents precipitated a massacre of minority Tutsis and moderate Hutus by extremist Hutus. The bloody campaign was carried across the country, mainly by the Interahamwe Hutu militia, but also by civilians who were encouraged by government-led radio propaganda to attack Tutsis.

The RPF responded to the attacks with the same violent methods and unseated the Hutu-led government, effectively ending the genocide in July 1994.

The Rwandan genocide lasted approximately 100 days. The United Nations (UN), which had a station in Rwanda at the time, was widely criticized for its inability to stop the fighting. UN personnel left the country after ten soldiers were killed. Western foreigners were helped out of the country while the massacre continued.

Over 1.5 million Hutu fled Rwanda and sought refuge in neighbouring Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of Congo) after the genocide. Rwandan people went through a long period of national reconciliation that was marred by new episodes of violence—including attacks launched from refugee camps in Zaire.

In November 1994, the UN Security Council set up the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda. The court was established with the jurisdiction to prosecute crimes which occurred between January 1, 1994, and December 31, 1994.

In September 1998, a UN tribunal sentenced Jean Kambanda, a former prime minister of Rwanda, to life in prison for his part in the 1994 genocide. Kambanda was the first person to be convicted for the crime of genocide.

In March 2000, RPF leader and then vice-president Paul Kagame became the country’s president following Pasteur Bizimungu’s resignation. Kagame had taken over as RPF leader as the group was invading Rwanda in 1990, and led the government takeover that put an end to the Genocide in 1994.

In 2002, Rwanda and Zaire signed a peace accord, ending close to four years of conflict.

In May 2003, Rwandan voters overwhelmingly supported a new constitution that provided equal access to power by Hutus and Tutsis, and typified instigation to ethnic cleansing as a crime.

In 2003, Kagame became the first elected president of Rwanda after the genocide. He won more than 95 per cent of the popular vote.

In an effort to stop possible violence, a ban on all ethnic political parties was strictly enforced. While some observers believed the ban was a necessary step towards political stability, others acknowledged that the prohibition benefited Kagame.

The new regulations took the Hutu-dominated Democratic Republican Movement (MDR) out of contention. Former prime minister Faustin Twagiramungu ran as an independent. Twagiramungu formed a government in the post-genocide era, but fled to Belgium claiming Kagame’s RPF was too dominant and undemocratic. Népomuscène Nayinzira—former leader of the Social Democratic Party (PSD) also returned from exile to run for office.

Kagame—a Tutsi—was severely criticized for releasing thousands of prisoners convicted for their participation in the genocide, allegedly in a move to ease congested jails. Also in 2003, Kagame’s RPF won the legislative ballot with 73 per cent of the vote.

Since 1994, the National Transitional Assembly had functioned as Rwanda’s legislative branch. The new constitution allowed the establishment of an 80-member Chamber of Deputies, and a 26-member Senate.

Kagame congratulated the citizen’s peaceful behaviour. However, European Union (EU) observers denounced irregularities and fraudulent cases at some stations.

Click here for Rwanda’s 2003 Legislative Election Tracker

In 2004, a French judge asserted that Kagame masterminded the assassination of the Rwandan and Burundian presidents in 1994. Kagame vehemently denied the allegation.

The Rwandan economy is still recovering from the years of bloodshed. The country gets great attention and aid from the international community, especially Belgium, the old colonial power. Rwanda remains primarily an agricultural economy.

Rwanda has an alarmingly high rate of AIDS and HIV cases, a fact that has pushed the life expectancy rate to less than 50 years.

2008 Legislative Election

Rwandan voters took part in a legislative election in September 2008. Final results gave the pro-Kagame coalition 78.76 per cent of the vote, and 42 seats in the Chamber of Deputies. Two opposition parties—the Social Democratic Party (PSD) and the Liberal Party (PL)—won the remaining 11 seats. Women hold a majority in the legislature for the first time, due to the combination of gender-allocated seats and directly-elected lawmakers.

Click here for Rwanda’s 2008 Legislative Election Tracker

2010 Presidential Election

The Rwandan presidential election is scheduled for Aug. 9. Incumbent president Paul Kagame of the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) is seeking a second seven-year term in office. Another registered candidate is Jean Damascene Ntawukuriyayo of the Social Democratic Party (PSD), a group that has been a supporter of the ruling RPF.

On May 28, U.S. assistant state secretary for African affairs Johnnie Carson expressed concern over the current state of affairs in Rwanda, saying, “The political environment ahead of the election has been riddled by a series of worrying actions taken by the Government of Rwanda, which appear to be attempts to restrict the freedom of expression. (…) In a period of months, the Government of Rwanda has suspended two newspapers, revoked the work permit and denied the visa of a Human Rights Watch researcher, and arrested (and subsequently released on bail) opposition leader Victoire Ingabire.”

On Jun. 6, opposition Democratic Green Party leader Frank Habineza alleged that Rwandan authorities have not allowed him to register the party, adding, “We have been stopped, sometimes violently and sometimes legally. Some of our members have had to run out of the country, others have been imprisoned, and others have been harassed or intimidated.”

Political Players

President: Paul Kagame – FPR
Prime minister: Bernard Makuza – MDR

The president is elected to a seven-year term by popular vote.

Legislative Branch: The Inteko Ishinga Amategeko / Parlement (Parliament) has two chambers. The Umutwe w’Abadepite / Chambre des Députés (Chamber of Deputies) has 80 members; 53 members elected to five-year terms by proportional representation, 24 female members elected by provincial councils, two members elected by the National Youth Council and one member elected by the Federation of the Associations of the Disabled. The Umutwe wa Sena / Sénat (Senate) has 26 members, either elected or appointed to eight-year terms; 12 members are elected by provincial and local councils, eight members are appointed by the president to ensure the representation of historically marginalized communities, four members are appointed by the Forum of Political Formations and two members are elected by the staff of universities. Former presidents may also request to become additional Senate members.

Results of Last Election:

President – Aug. 25, 2003

Vote%

Paul Kagame –
Front Patriotique Rwandais
(FPR—Rwanda Patriottic Front)
95.05%
Faustin Twagiramungu 3.62%
Népomuscène Nayinzira 1.33%

Chamber of Deputies – Sept. 15 to Sept. 18, 2008

Vote%

Seats

Coalition
Rwanda Patriotic Front (FPR)
Islamic Democratic Party (PDI)
Centrist Democratic Party (PDC)
Concord Progressive Party (PPC)
Prosperity and Solidarity Party (PSP)
Democratic Popular Union (UPDR)
Rwandan Socialist Party (PSR)
78.76% 42
Social Democratic Party (PSD) 13.12% 7
Liberal Party (PL) 7.5% 4
Harelimana J.M.V. 0.6%
Female members 24
National Youth Council members 2
Federation of the Associations of the Disabled member 1