9 August 2018

Rwanda: Five Things You Should Know About Your Parliamentary Candidates

Overall, 521 candidates have entered the race for the September 2-4 poll - 62.5 per cent of them women.

President Paul Kagame is today set to dissolve the 3rd Lower House just days before the start of campaigns for the 80-member chamber.

The country's electoral commission earlier this week published a list of candidates approved to contest in the upcoming parliamentary polls, the fourth since the country held its first post-Genocide legislative elections in 2003.

Overall, 521 candidates have entered the race for the September 2-4 poll - 62.5 per cent of them women.

Half of the current parliamentarians in the Chamber of Deputies will not be returning to the House after deciding against seeking re-election or being overlooked by their respective political organisations.

Of the 80 slots up for grabs, only 53 are subject to universal suffrage and therefore all voters will have a chance to have a say, through a secret ballot, on the fate of the 307 men and women, including 5 independents, who are eyeing these 'general seats' in the Lower House.

Twenty-seven other seats are reserved for special interest groups, namely women (24), youth (two) and people living with disabilities (one slot). The women slots have attracted a field of 179 candidates - with 23 vying for the four seats reserved for Northern Province, 62 for the six slots for Southern Province, 39 for the six positions set aside for Eastern Province, 39 for the six slots for Western Province, while 16 will be canvassing for support to fill the two slots reserved for City of Kigali.

A total of 26 candidates will be vying for the two exclusives youth slots, while 10 aspirants are headed for a battle for the sole seat reserved for people living with disabilities.

The New Times looks at some of the major highlights.

1. Broad participation

All the 11 political organisations that formally operate in the country have fielded candidates with seven of them running under a coalition heavily dominated by the governing Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF)-Inkotanyi. Besides the coalition parties, four other parties are in the race for parliamentary seats, one of them for the first time.

The RPF-led coalition, which will hit the campaign trail with a line-up of 80 candidates, includes aspirants from Ideal Democratic Party (PDI), Centrist Democratic Party (PDC), Democratic Union of the Rwandan People (UDPR), Party for Progress and Concord (PPC), Prosperity and Solidarity Party (PSP), and Rwandan Socialist Party (PSR).

With the exception of PSP and PSR which have one candidate apiece on the coalition list, each of the other small parties on the RPF-led coalition has two aspirants, with all the other 70 being RPF members.

Both UDPR and PSP did not participate in the last election in 2013 although they had both been part of an RPF-led coalition in the previous poll five years earlier.

Other than the RPF and its coalition parties, four other political organisations are running for seats in parliament. They include traditional players Social Democratic Party (PSD) and Liberal Party (PL), which partook and won seats in each of the three previous legislative elections.

Democratic Green Party of Rwanda (DGPR) and PS-Imberakuri are the two other parties in the race, both having never had a representative in parliament. The former will be taking part in parliamentary elections for the first time in its history while the latter fell short of the minimum threshold of 5 per cent in the last election in 2013.

Parties win seats depending on the proportion of votes won in the election. No independent candidate has ever collected enough votes to join parliament.

2. Women are the majority on RPF-led coalition list

Of the 80 candidates assembled by the RPF and its coalition partners, 46 of them are women, representing 57.5 per cent of the total number of their aspirants. Considering that the RPF-assembled line-up will almost certainly romp to victory having previously won with landslides - 40 out of 53 seats in 2003, 42 in 2008 and 41 in 2013 - and the fact that there are 24 seats exclusively reserved for women in line with a constitutional requirement, it is safe to suggest that women will yet again command a majority in the next Lower House. As of now, women were occupying 62.5 per cent of the Lower House, their dominance having slightly dropped from 64 per cent reached in the early days of the Third Parliament - mostly due to fresh appointments over the last five years.

Notably, all the other parties will be fielding more men than women in the parliamentary elections, with women comprising 44 per cent of PS-Imberakuri, PL, and Green Party candidates each, while PSD trails in women representation with 32 per cent.

3. Next Parliament will be dominated by fresh faces

From the contenders for the 53 seats that are open to all qualified Rwandans to candidates running for the 27 seats reserved for special interest groups, it is clear that this contest will deliver a House that's dominated by newcomers. Overall, only 40 incumbents will be seeking re-election, with 40 of their colleagues not running again. Of the 80 candidates that appear on the list of the RPF coalition only 29 of them - representing 36 per cent - are incumbents. (Although there are only 53 seats up for grabs in this category of universal suffrage parties can field up to 80 candidates).

In addition, only four incumbents (out of 24 MPs) are seeking re-election as women representatives - with a record 179 candidates set to tussle it out for the two dozen slots reserved for women.

Also, none of the two incumbents representing the youth in the outgoing Lower House is running again on the same ticket with both Philbert Uwiringiyimana and Justine Mukobwa now running as RPF candidates instead. As a result, all the 26 contenders for the two youth seats are newcomers. However, Gaston Rusiha, who occupies the sole seat reserved for persons living with disabilities, is running again. He faces nine challengers, including two women.

4. Most candidates youthful

The average age of candidates fielded by political organisations is 38 with PS-Imberakuri boasting the youngest line-up averaging 30 years. The RPF-led coalition has relatively oldest aspirants - averaging 46 years - while the average age of Green Party's candidates is 35, with both PL and PSD hopefuls averaging 40 years of age. Both the Green Party and PS-Imberakuri boast the youngest individual contenders, aged 22 each, while PL presented the oldest individual aspirant, aged 69.

Three of the RPF coalition candidates are below 30 (the age beyond which one is not considered a youth under the country's electoral code), while forty others are aged 45 or below. Fourteen of Green Party candidates are aged 30 or below, while twenty-eight are aged below 45. For PSD, a dozen of their candidates are aged below 30 while 50 are aged below 45. Twenty-six candidates of PS-Imberakuri are youth (below 30), while 44 are aged 45 or below. As for PL, 14 of their candidates are youth, while 28 are aged 45 or below.

5. Incumbent candidates are mostly women

Of the 40 MPs who are seeking re-election on their respective political party tickets, 27 of them are women. Only thirteen out the 30 male outgoing Members of Parliament will be looking to bounce back but a couple of them have their names in lowly positions on the lists of party candidates and could wait much longer before they can have a chance to return to the August House.

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