13 August 2017

Rwanda: What Next for Rwanda's Opposition Politics After Poor Showing in Polls?

Photo: allafrica.com
Opposition leaders Philippe Mpayimana and Frank Habineza.

The Rwandan opposition was dealt a heavy blow in the August 4 election, with a poor showing which painted a dull picture of opposition politics in the country and cemented the dominance of the ruling Rwanda Patriotic Front-Inkotanyi.

The National Electoral Commission last week announced the final results of the presidential election, with Frank Habineza, the head of the only opposition party, Democratic Green Party of Rwanda (DGPR), managing a paltry 0.48 per cent against President Paul Kagame's 98.79 per cent.

Mr Habineza surprisingly finished behind independent candidate Philippe Mpayimana, who got 0.73 per cent of the vote, leaving the Greens licking their wounds and pondering the future.

Initial reports indicated that Mr Habineza, considered the country's opposition pillar, was pondering quitting politics after performing poorly, but the 41-year-old has vowed to soldier on, saying he will contest again in 2024.

"We are disappointed by the election outcome but we are not discouraged," said Mr Habineza, who had declared earlier that he would score highly in the poll which President Kagame was expected to win with a landslide.

Mr Habineza said that his party incurred heavy debts and staked his personal house to raise funds to foot the campaign bill, but regardless of all that, he will continue to be the "champion of change" and alternative policies.

Observers say that Mr Habineza and Mr Mpayimana's poor showing confirm the state of Rwandan opposition, with the ones inside the country weak and unable to challenge the incumbent, while those outside Rwanda are "scattered and disoriented."

"I think the opposition parties have failed to offer anything tangible to the population, hence the result we saw," said political analyst Dr Venuste Karambizi.

"For anyone to challenge RPF, you need to have better policies and many of the political parties challenging for power fail to do that."

Critics have accused the RPF of locking out possible challengers but proponents of the ruling party argue that the party remains strong in terms of delivering its promises to the masses.

This week, President Kagame will be sworn in for his third seven-year term, ending in 2024, a term he has vowed to transform the country further, to ensure economic growth, inclusiveness and reduction of poverty.

The Rwandan leader, who this week commissioned the construction of the New Bugesera International Airport, a multi-million venture between Rwanda and a Portuguese firm Mota Engil, is winding up his current term.

Both Mr Mpayimana and Mr Habineza have vowed to continue with their political work, which they say is vital in opening up the country's political and democratic space.

President Kagame in his first interview shortly after being re-elected said that he would consider working with his challengers as well as the eight parties that backed RPF-Inkotanyi in the just concluded elections.

"There has always been room to work with everybody," said President Kagame when asked if he will work with Mr Habineza and Mr Mpayimana.

The eight political parties that backed RPF-Inkotanyi including Social Democratic Party and the Liberal Party are expected to scoop key positions in the new government.

With the country's exiled opposition disintegrated, the RPF is expected to go over the next seven years with little opposition.

However, there will be anxiety as to whether President Kagame will call it a day in 2024. The Rwandan leader has hinted on the need for a transition.

A letter issued by Theogene Rudasingwa, one of the members of the opposition and former RPF stalwart accused the international community of abandoning Rwanda in the wake of the August 4 election.

"Today, the international community is still failing to act in the interests of the Rwandan people. The US and UK's overt and covert support for Kagame's regime, coupled with failures of the past, have led the majority of people to lose trust in foreign powers as a reliable partner in the country's social, economic and political development," said Dr Rudasingwa.

Dr Rudasingwa was among the founders of Rwanda National Congress, an opposition organisation founded by former close allies of President Kagame including Lt Gen Kayumba Nyamwasa, but they have since fallen out and parted ways.

Despite earlier criticism, the August 4 poll received a thumbs-up from the European Union and observers who termed it fair and transparent but expressed concerns on the lack of inclusiveness.

"The Rwandan people have engaged in the democratic process peacefully, with polling held in an organised and secure environment, and a diverse set of issues having been raised across a wide range of media in the campaign," an EU statement said.

"This marks a step to strengthen the electoral process. In view of future elections, the EU expects further efforts to increase the inclusiveness and transparency of the process, in particular as regards the registration of the candidates, the tabulation of results and other prerequisites for achieving a level playing field," it added.

The US also expressed concerns about the "lack of transparency in determining the eligibility of prospective candidates."

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