Rwanda: NEC - Supreme Court Will Rule on Eligibility of Senators for Re-Election

The National Electoral Commission’s chairperson Kalisa Mbanda speaking in the Senatorial elections at Kigali City Hall on September 16, 2019.

The National Electoral Commission (NEC) will start receiving all applications for contestants in the September senatorial elections on Monday next week but final candidates for the polls will be approved by the Supreme Court (SC).

The message was delivered on Thursday by NEC president, Kalisa Mbanda, at a news conference in Kigali to announce the plan for the senatorial elections.

Asked whether current senators are eligible for re-election in the forthcoming polls, the official said that it will be up to the SC to decide.

He emphasised that it's the Supreme Court that decides on who is an approved candidate while NEC's role is to receive all the applications and submit them to the court.

"No Rwandan is limited to apply unless they are limited by the law. If things aren't clear in the law, it's the Supreme Court that responds on this. For us we will receive all the applications and hand them over to the Supreme Court," he said.

Since the calendar for this year's senatorial elections was announced last month, legal experts and some among current senators started wondering whether current senators whose eight-year term is about to end can seek re-election in the September polls.

That's because prior to the current revised Constitution, senators were eligible to serve for an eight-year, non-renewable term but the 2015 review of the Constitution didn't specify whether senators who were serving when the Constitution was revised were eligible for re-election or not.

The revised Constitution changed the senators' term limit to a five-year tenure renewable once.

Tom Mulisa, who teaches constitutional law at the University of Rwanda, has said that going by the current Constitution; especially its articles 171 and 173, there are no grounds on which the current senators would be denied eligibility to seek re-election.

"The Constitution as amended to date, never specified that they shouldn't come back," he said in an interview last month.

But many senators in service today are yet to announce whether they will contest for the upcoming polls or not, partly because they aren't sure whether they would be eligible.

One senator who requested for anonymity said in an interview last month that the Constitution is silent on the topic.

"You need to be asking these things to National Electoral Commission (NEC); they should be the ones to clarify the matter," he said.

From yesterday's press conference, NEC president made it clear that the current senators aren't barred by any law from applying to contest in the senatorial elections only that their candidature has to be approved by the Supreme Court just like any other candidates.

"No Rwandan is limited to apply unless they are limited by the law," he said.

Requirements to contest for the elective senatorial seats include being a Rwandan of at least 40 years of age and being widely accepted in society as a wise and upright person.

According to the electoral calendar, senatorial elections are scheduled from September 16-18.

The election season will kick off with prospective candidates submitting their bids to NEC between July 22 and August 9, while campaigns will run from August 27 through September 15.

September 16 will be the polling day for election of 12 senators representing the four provinces and the City of Kigali, September 17 is polling day for picking one senator from lecturers and researchers of public universities and higher learning institutions, while September 18 is election of one senator from lecturers and researchers of private universities and higher learning institutions.

The deadline to announce elected senators is on 30 September 2019.

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