On July 20 last week, I was invited to engage members of the Democratic Green Party of Rwanda on the delicate but important subject of electoral reform, the political and electoral systems, and how to strengthen democratic institutions in the country.
Interestingly, during the question and answer session, the recurrent question asked and commented on by members is “why the Green party hasn’t yet been ‘given’ cabinet and other positions in government yet it’s a constitutional requirement”.
The President of the party, Dr. Frank Habineza responded to his members by saying that he has raised the issue with concerned authorities─like the Senate and Rwanda Governance Board and the Speaker of the Lower Chamber of Deputies, without getting a response.
Habineza added that that he will be writing to the President of the Republic as the custodian of the Constitution requesting him to do the needful.
At a press conference with journalists after the training and meeting of his party’s politiburo, Habineza repeated his call for cabinet positions.
In the September 2018 parliamentary election, the Green Party and PS-Imberakuri garnered the required constitutional threshold of 5 percent to join parliament and each secured two seats in the Lower Chamber of parliament.
Legally, this milestone gives these parties a legal right to be represented in government.
Article 62 of the 2003 Constitution stipulates that, in the spirit of power-sharing, cabinet positions will be distributed in proportion to seats held in parliament, and parties represented in parliament will also be represented in government.
Paragraph One of Article 62 states: “Power sharing is respected in State institutions in accordance with the fundamental principles set out under Article 10 of this Constitution and the provisions of other laws”.
While it must have been an oversight on the part of constitutional framers to suggest “power-sharing in state institutions”─which by definition “state institutions” would include the military, police, security agencies and prisons, we will take it that constitution framers meant the “government” NOT “state institutions”.
For while a state is permanent and its members not elected or a result of “sharing” from different parties, government is elected for a specific period of time─currently seven years and five years in the revised constitution of 2015.
What power-sharing in government would mean is, besides presence in cabinet, political parties represented in Parliament would also get positions in other institutions of government and ambassadorial positions.
Specifically, Paragraph Three of the above article states: “Cabinet members are selected from political organisations on the basis of seats held by those political organisations in the Chamber of Deputies. However, a political organisation holding the majority of seats in the Chamber of Deputies cannot have more than fifty (50%) per cent of Cabinet members. It is not prohibited for other competent persons to be appointed to Cabinet”.
The Green Party members have been consistent in demanding that this provision of the constitution be implemented.
The reasons why no member of the Green Party or PS-Imberakuri has been appointed either to cabinet or any other position in government, have only remained a matter of speculation.
Some assert that, perhaps, these parties haven’t yet gained the confidence of the appointing authority, to be entrusted with weighty responsibilities.
Others claim that since these parties are still “small” and nascent, they don’t have enough qualified and experienced members to serve in high positions while others say that, perhaps, the President hasn’t found time to scrutinize and decide who to appoint to what position in government.
Whatever the reasons however, appointing some members of the Green-Party and PS-Imberakuri would advance constitutional rule and consolidate “consensual-powering” political settlement.
Remember, this political settlement has origins in our violent and exclusionist politics that the post-genocide leadership decided to abandon in favour of inclusive and consensual politics to undermine violent contestations for power.
This also means that, despite some individuals who claim that the demand made by the Green Party for position in government is only an individual plea for positions motivated by self-aggrandizement on the part of its leaders, is superfluous. This demand is, instead, a call for a higher cause: strengthening constitutional rule through implementing constitutional provisions.
Remember, Article 98, Paragraph Two of the Constitution states that: “The President of the Republic is the defender of the Constitution and the guarantor of national unity”.
And Article 112 empowers the president to enact presidential orders, including orders appointing and dismissing ministers and various other senior officials in government.
Clearly, it’s a constitutional responsibility for the President, as the custodian of our constitution to do the needful, and it’s appropriate for aggrieved parties to request him to fulfil this important constitutional requirement.
Doing so would also greatly strengthen what the preamble to our constitution says; which is that, Rwandans “COMMITTED to building a State governed by the rule of law” and “building a State based on consensual and pluralistic democracy founded on power sharing”.