14 March 2017

Rwanda: Green Party Mulls Bank Loan to Fund Presidential Campaign

The Green Party is considering a bank loan to finance its presidential flag bearer in the August elections, reflecting the difficulties Rwandan political parties are facing with election financing.

Frank Habineza, the president and presumed presidential flag bearer of the Green Party said borrowing to support his campaign was one option that the party will discuss in the near future.

The Green Party's political bureau elected Mr Habineza as its presidential flagbearer last December, a decision the party's assembly is expected to confirm before the end of this month.

"We are still trying to see how much we are going to raise from our members, but if we don't raise enough, we are considering a loan from a bank, though we are yet to discuss this as a party," Mr Habineza said.

Although the party has in the past had trouble with getting even a meeting venue, Mr Habineza said he did not expect any trouble in getting lenders to extend credit to the party.

"Borrowing is a viable option for us because all that banks require of us is a register of our members and the contributions they make. We have more than 200,000 members so we can borrow the same way schools borrow against student enrolment," he said.

Three-week window

Rwanda's presidential campaigns have been squeezed into a tight three-week window starting July1 4, reflecting efforts to lighten the financial burden on the candidates.

Even President Paul Kagame's Rwanda Patriotic Front which is assumed to be well funded is understood to be planning to spend less compared with previous elections.

The Green Party, which is the most vocal opposition party, says it has come up with a budget of Rwf1.6 billion ($2 million), but says that it is struggling to raise the money.

"What we have managed to collect at the moment is laughable when you compare it to the budget we have. This will definitely affect our reach countrywide and sensitisation campaigns," Mr Habineza said adding that, "The only thing we are fully guaranteed of is security during the campaigns offered by the police, but when it comes to money, it is a real struggle."

The Liberal Party's Donatile Mukabalisa refused to discuss the party's campaign budget while the Social Democratic Party President Vincent Biruta was not available for comment.

However inside sources told The EastAfrican that even these parties were struggling to finance their candidates' campaigns.

"In the 2013 presidential campaigns, the Liberal Party got a bank loan to finance its campaigns, and to date are still struggling to repay that loan," a source who preferred anonymity said.

No foreign donor funds

RPF secretary-general Francois Ngarambe refused to discuss the ruling party's campaign budget, noting that the figures will be made public during the election period.

The law regulating political organisations and politicians does not mandate parties to publicly declare how much they spend. However, they are required to submit their annual financial statements to the Rwanda Governance Board (RGB) and to the office of the ombudsman.

They are also prohibited from accepting donations from foreigners, religious organisation and non-governmental organisations.

Political parties generally survive on donations and subscriptions from their members. But when the donations are at least Rwf1 million ($1,200), they are required to report the donation's value and details of the donor to RGB.

Moise Bukasa, the spokesperson of the National Electoral Commission, said that the government offers budget grants to political parties and independent candidates that participate in the general elections.

"The money given to any party is equal to its campaign activities. It is more like a reimbursement for what they spent during their campaigns. We think this is a positive step that government takes to ensure that the participating political and independent candidates are facilitated to carry out their campaigns effectively," he said.

Running against Kagame

Nominations for presidential candidates will start on June 14 and close on June 23. The electoral commission will publish a list of qualified candidates on July 7.

Three out of the 11 registered parties have confirmed that they will field candidates to run against President Kagame. These are; the Democratic Green Party of Rwanda, the Social Democratic Party and the Liberal Party.

The other small parties such as the Centrist Democratic Party and the Ideal Democratic Party are expected to support President Kagame.

However, not all who participate are entitled to this reimbursement. Only those that get at least five per cent of the vote are offered this money -- which means that apart from RPF, only PSD has benefited from this law in the past two general elections.

This was in the 2010 general elections when PSD candidate, Jean Damascene Ntawukuriryayo scored 5.13 per cent of the vote.

The government has also slashed its spending on elections this year, and has set the budget at Rwf5.5 billion ($6.6 million), which is Rwf500 million ($600,000) less than what was spent in 2010. The election budget will be fully financed by government resources.

Foreign donors - particularly the UNDP - will finance a small portion of about 10 per cent, with their funds mainly going to civic education, according to Mr Bukasa.

President Kagame is favoured to win a third term in office with the Green Party's Mr Habineza expected to offer the most robust challenge.

Both the Liberal Party and the Social Democratic Party are also in the process of nominating flag bearers.

Nominations for presidential candidates will start on June 14 and close on June 23. The electoral commission will publish a list of qualified candidates on July 7.

Three out of the 11 registered parties have confirmed that they will field candidates to run against President Kagame. These are; the Democratic Green Party of Rwanda, the Social Democratic Party and the Liberal Party.

The other small parties such as the Centrist Democratic Party and the Ideal Democratic Party (PDI), are expected to rally behind President Kagame.

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