Sunday, August 13, 2017

Rwanda, Kenya: A tale of two polls

Kenya’s main political rivals Raila Odinga of

Kenya’s main political rivals Raila Odinga of Nasa coalition faces Uhuru Kenyatta of the Jubilee coalition at a recent event. The latter just won the presidential election as per results announced by the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission. PHOTO |FILE 

By Asuman Bisiika

On August 4, Rwanda held presidential elections, which returned incumbent president Paul Kagame with a 98.63 per cent victory. The other candidates in the race were Dr Frank Habineza and Mr Philipe Mpayimana. This is the background of Rwanda’s elections.

President Kagame was constitutionally barred from contesting in this election, but a constitutional amendment was procured for the benefaction of his candidature. The particulars of the procurement of this constitutional amendment are that over 99 per cent of the population demanded that Kagame be enabled to seek re-election (or to be precise, to continue ruling Rwanda).

They petitioned parliament demanding for a constitutional amendment. Parliament was overwhelmed by petitions from over 99 per cent of the population. Since the voice of the people is the voice of God, parliament had no choice but to initiate a process that led to a constitutional amendment. A referendum held to validate the constitutional amendment returned 99 per cent of the voters as supporting the said constitutional amendment. Why then do our experts say president Kagame’s 99 per cent victory was eye-brow rising?

The people who ‘forced’ Kagame to continue ruling them are the same people who voted in the referendum to ‘legalise’ their ‘force’. And these are the same people who voted in the presidential elections to actualise their ‘force’. Consistency!

Rwandans don’t do things in half measures. In fact, experts on Rwanda say Kagame has not even reached the level of electoral victory enjoyed by former president Gregoire Kayibanda and military ruler Maj Gen Juvenale Habyarimana. Which is why my request to know the percentage of the spoilt or invalid votes was understandably dismissed by a Kagame aide thus: Must there be spoilt or invalid votes?

Voting versus vote counting

Kenyans went to the polls on August 8. But as is the wont in these things, it is one thing for one to vote and quite another for one’s vote to count (or be counted). As opposed to Rwanda, the number of spoilt votes in the Kenyan poll is annoyingly high that it may take a bronze medal.

In spite of all else, the most important thing in the last three Kenyan elections is that a two-party system has been established. The significance of an established two-party system is that it offers the country the best chance for power to change hands from one political group to another.

Kenya’s ‘two-party system’ is not a de jure, but a de facto situation where political parties have formed grand coalitions that effectively control more than 80 per cent of the votes (or parliamentary seats).

In Rwanda, all political parties (except one) supported Kagame’s candidature. Some parties offered to support Kagame even before RPF (his party) declared him as their candidate. That’s not a grand coalition, but a grand co-option.

Presidential terms in Rwanda

The length of the term of office for which Kagame was re-elected on August 4 is seven years (ending in 2024). After 2024, presidential terms of office will be reduced to five years each.

And after 2024, one can only be a president of Rwanda for only two terms of office.

So, the new term of office (for which Kagame was elected is like a personal gift to him. However, he is eligible to run for office in 2024 and 2029.

I have heard some whispers that president Kagame has said this will be his last term. I have nothing to comment on those whispers because leaving power at that level is a personal matter and calls for depth of character.

In the first place, there will be no constitutional requirement to stop him to seek re-election in the next two elections (2024 and 2029).

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