Rwanda votes in parliamentary elections today. Our blogger deconstructs the democratic voting system and, in so doing, questions whether the newly elected MPs will really be representing the interests of the people.
Kigali - 5,953,531 eligible voters have the opportunity to decide the composition of Rwanda's House of Deputies, Parliament's lower chamber.
Vying for those 53 seats today are the Liberal Party, the Social Democratic Party, the Party for Progress and Concord, the Centrist Democratic Party, the Social Party Imberakuri and the ruling Rwanda Patriotic Front coalition (which includes the tiny Ideal Democratic Party and the Socialist Party).
Elections for the 24 women's seats, two youth seats and one disabled seat take place on Wednesday.
All very normal...
But what sets these elections apart from those in other countries is how the members of parliament are voted.
In most democracies, MPs are selected by the constituents. Each constituency is guaranteed a seat in parliament and the area politicians are expected to convince voters in that area to cast their ballots for them.
Rwanda's voting system
In Rwanda it is done very differently.
First of all, there are no individual constituencies. MPs are chosen at the provincial level.
Secondly, Rwandans don't vote for specific candidates. Rather, each party has a long list of candidates that it presents to the public; the candidates at the top of each list are the party's best and brightest and those lower down the list, less so. After the votes are cast, each party sends to parliament a number of those on the list in direct proportion to the percentages garnered during the election.
So, if the RPF ruling party wins 50 percent of the national vote, it gets to choose the top, say, 25 candidates on its list of potential MPs.
This system aims to ensure that MPs take their cues from a national audience and not a local one. You will often hear them say it leads to the representation of all Rwandans and not just Rwandans from a specific area or constituency. That is what is supposed to happen - in theory.
But this system is still debated by many, including by this writer.
Lack of accountability
One of the major qualms I have with the system is its lack of accountability. In other countries, if you don't like the manner in which an MP is representing you, you can vote him or her out of office. They have the responsibility to represent the constituency's interests first and foremost.
In Rwanda, however, MPs represent the party's interests first and the people's last.
A few months ago, MPs passed an amendment in the labour law that reduced fully paid maternity leave from three months to six weeks. Would this have gone through if MPs had to face the wrath of an enraged electorate? Perhaps. But there would have been a lot more public debate about it. And this debate would have been led by wary MPs who would be unwilling to go against public opinion.
While public opinion and populism on the African continent sometimes lead to discriminatory laws, such as those criminalizing homosexuality (happily, Rwanda's MPs chose not to criminalize it, despite the country's conservative nature), there is still a place for it in our political process. To what extent, though?
Over the next three days, especially, Rwanda faces the challenge of attempting to find this balance.
Sunny Ntayombya is a journalist and blogger working with a Rwandan English newspaper. He has an avid interest in global socio-political affairs with a particular fascination for the issues besieging the African Great Lakes region. He lives in Kigali, Rwanda. You can read more on his blog The Thing Is and follow him on Twitter @sannykigali.
RNW's Africa Desk is proud to feature as part of its content local bloggers who have a knack for expressing their unique perspectives, independent thoughts and engaging stories. The opinions written here are those of the author and not intended to reflect those of RNW as an institution.