The only opposition party that is tolerated in Rwanda has won parliamentary seats for the first time, election results showed on Wednesday, in a move described as ‘a sign Rwanda is opening up its political spectrum’.
President Paul Kagame’s ruling Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF), which still has a dominant majority, declared the results of Monday’s election proof that the country is a democracy.
Rwanda’s democratic space
Kagame is praised for restoring stability in Rwanda and for rapid economic progress after the 1994 genocide. But rights groups say he has muzzled independent media and suppressed opponents. The government dismisses the accusations as false.
This means that Rwanda is a democracy. It means that the population has the right to choose whoever they want.
Officials of the electoral commission told a news conference on Wednesday that two candidates from the small opposition Democratic Green party had been elected.
However, the RPF, which has held a tight grip on the country since it fought its way to power to end the genocide, won 40 seats, together with smaller allied parties, the commission said.‘My incredible summer trip to Rwanda’: DeGeneres urges audience to visit
The parliament of Rwanda consists of two chambers; the Senate and the Chamber of Deputies, and some 365 candidates registered from five political parties and a few independents contested the election.
Rwanda’s parliament has 80 seats. Political parties compete for 53 seats and another 24 are reserved for women, two for youth and one for the disabled.
Another small party, PS Imberakuri, also won two seats for the first time. However, it has generally been considered pro-government since its founder and ardent opposition figure Bernard Ntaganda was dismissed from the party.
Democratic Green chief Frank Habineza, one of the newly-elected lawmakers, set modest targets for the party.
“I think it is a positive step forward. They have allowed – I mean two new political parties have been able to enter parliament for the first time,” he said.
“Our say was rarely given consideration because we lacked power. Now we will continue our work in parliament by participating in formulation of laws and policies that are in the spirit of democracy, freedom and development,” Habineza, who was a presidential candidate last year, told AFP.
Habineza had won only 0.45 percent of the vote in last year’s presidential election, which was won by Kagame with 99 percent.
‘Nothing will change’
RPF spokesman Wellars Gasamagera said the two new parties would help broaden discussion in parliament.
“This means that Rwanda is a democracy. It means that the population has the right to choose whoever they want,” he told Reuters.
Gasamagera, however, made clear not much would change. “Rwandans adopted dialogue and consensus politics and the two new political parties agree with that policy and therefore we will keep to it,” he said.
Kagame’s jailed opponents
A number of the president’s critics have fallen foul of the law.
Diane Rwigara, who wanted to compete against Kagame in the 2017 presidential election, is in jail, as is Victoire Ingabire, who returned from the Netherlands in 2010 to run for president.
Rwigara is due to reappear in court on Sept. 24, accused of using forged documents while she was trying to submit her candidacy and of inciting insurrection. She was barred from running and Kagame won with 98.8 percent of the vote last year.
A social media campaign titled #FreeDianeRwigara has since been started to secure her freedom.
Ingabire is serving a 15-year sentence on charges of trying to undermine the state and playing down the genocide.