As the parliamentary elections draw closer, the Democratic Green Party of Rwanda (DGPR) is confident of securing seats in its first ever parliamentary campaigns. The party says it wants to promote citizens' participation in the legislative process and more outreach programmes to ensure that bills that are passed are fully in the interest of the citizens they represent.
The New Times' Jean d'Amour Mbonyinshuti caught up with Frank Habineza, the party's president, who is also top of the party's list of candidates and he talked about the campaign, party's priorities as well as the party's plan should they secure seats in parliament.
It is more than a week since the campaigns for parliamentary elections started, what's your assessment of the party's experience throughout the campaigns so far?
We have done ten districts so far. In the beginning, it was a bit difficult because on the first day we were shifted to another site, which we did not appreciate but later we had to agree. The second site in Muhanga was okay and in Kirehe we had a challenge of people who had refused us to erect our tents. In Rubavu and Nyabihu it was great, not just okay, I think we had over 3000 people at our rally and in Nyabihu it was more than that. There were so many people, it was a great success. People were happy, engaged and we had good interactions. In Kamonyi, we also had more people and very interactive discussions. I would say that, so far, it is going on well despite minor small hitches.
The parliamentary elections require parties and individuals to secure five per cent of votes in order to win seats in parliament, how optimistic is the party?
Well we are optimistic in the way that in the last (presidential) elections, it was just one seat for the presidency that we were competing for but this time we have 53 seats and we think that out of those seats we cannot fail to get at least 10 seats. So, we have a good political programme and people are aware of our programme. We had a good campaign last year as we moved throughout the country and people remember it very well. I think we have more chances than the other parties. Of course we are aware that RPF has more chances than us but we also know that we have more chances than other political parties. We are confident that, come elections, we shall win some seats.
Other political parties, including RPF - which appears to be more popular than all of you - have been able to draw more crowds at their rallies than Green Party, and the number of people who attend rallies are the ones likely to vote. Does this concern you?
If, for instance, I compare the number people at PL rally in Rubavu and ours, I can say we had the big majority. I also saw the PSD rally but we also had big attendance, I would say RPF has more people than us but we also have crowds. I don't want to make comparisons because it is still too early to call. And again, it is not only the people who come to the campaign rallies that vote, many people do not come to the campaigns but listen to our messages through radios and newspapers.
Part of the Green Party manifesto is waiving land tax but this has been challenged by experts. How practical is this promise?
We have concerns on land taxes based on two issues; the first is about land ownership - we want to ensure that everyone owns land, because no one owns land in Rwanda, we are all tenants to the Government and the Government is the landlord of all Rwandans, including myself.
I am a tenant of 25 years and after that the Government can decide to destroy my house and replace it with a hotel. So it is a challenge and we want to have land ownership first. The Government can have land; it has mountains, valleys, lakes, rivers and national parks... but let us have our own plots of land and with permanent land titles. People in the villages have 49 years, there will always be crisis. Look at the buildings in Nyarutarama, these houses have been there for more than ten years and maybe the owners were given land titles of 25 years, what will the Government do for those beautiful houses there, will they pay more money to get new land titles? Will the Government destroy the houses? Will the Government issue new land titles to all Rwandans? This will cause a crisis.
So, basically what we want is to make new legislation so that whoever has a land title we will convert it to total ownership.
The second concern is the issue of taxation. We will advocate for the removal of land tax. However, land that is used for commercial purposes can be taxed but not a citizen's plot of land.
Government generates revenue from land tax to finance development projects. How would you finance this funding shortfall?
We want to increase the tax base by lowering taxes. When we lower taxes for businesses, we believe that the number of people doing business will increase. If the number of taxpayers increases, tax revenue will increase. And we have to close some leakages because there is a lot of public money which is lost through corruption. Each year the Auditor General's report cites billions of money which have been embezzled. If we close all these gaps, we can't fail to get money.
Does Green Party have plans to join other political parties in future elections?
The future is now, we have elections in weeks to come, so we cannot think of another future, this time we are running alone and we hope we can win more than 5 per cent. Let us first finish these elections before we think of other possibilities or impossibilities. But parties make coalitions most times during elections; some parties form coalitions after elections depending on goals. For us, as an opposition party, we believe that we are doing services to the country by running alone.
You are traversing the country campaigning and selling your manifesto to the electorate, what strategies have you deployed to reach the voters in the Diaspora?
We have been conducting some interviews with foreign media and we have some people who are doing door to door for us and word of mouth as well. We have people in Uganda, Sweden, Canada, France, UK, US and Australia. We are not going there because we have our people there.
In elections, there is always a winner and a loser. How would will you react if your party loses the election?
We are law abiding citizens and we will respect the results of the elections, whether we are happy or not. We showed an example last time (last year's presidential elections), we were not happy but we accepted the result, as democrats we are obliged by democratic principles to accept if you lose because in elections there is a possibility to lose or win.
As we wind up, any message to the voters?
The message is that come September 2-3, vote for us if you want change because we are going to put in place a system whereby we will be consulting the voters on every bill before it is passed, we shall do outreach more than it is done today, we are also going to put in place an online platform whereby citizens will be involved in registration process by online voting for the first time.