July 28, 2019

Parliament Endorses Tough New “Obligations” For Election Observers

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During the 2018 parliamentary polls, observer team of the regional grouping COMESA meets with former Police Chief Emmanuel Gasana (C) and other top cops

Independent election observers approved to monitor polls in Rwanda will be obliged to submit a report to the National Electoral Commission (NEC) – as par one of the new rules introduced by the new draft law.

On Wednesday July 24, the Senate passed the draft law, following the Chamber of Deputies, which endorsed it the previous week. The draft sailed through the Senate unanimously, but in the Chamber, the Green Party’s two MPs voted against.

The law now awaits presidential assent. Among the changes is raft of rules on observers. The current law, which will become invalid once the President puts his signature on the new one, left the control of observers to NEC.

The draft law sets the same rules of operations on both observers accredited to monitor the polls and representatives of candidates in the election.

There are eight “obligations”, which are: to avoid any activity that may disrupt the smooth electoral process; to be impartial in electoral activities; to comply with national laws into force in general and laws related to elections in particular; to respect national culture; to avoid giving instructions to polling officers; to operate in the area where they have been accredited; to respect polling officers at all levels; and to avoid publishing election results before the competent organ does so.

Article 38, Paragraph 2 reads: “Electoral observers in particular produce a report based on evidence or facts observed during the elections and submit it to the Commission within sixty (60) days after elections.”

Previously, it was up to the observers to decide whether to share their findings with NEC.

Lawmakers who spoke to The Chronicles last week said that by clearly outlining in the law what is expected of the observers, it relieves NEC of the burden to set rules for observers which opens room for misunderstandings with observers.

Another change coming with the draft law, is the removal of the Media High Council (MHC) from overseeing how state media covers the different parties of the political divide in the election.

In the existing law, paragraph 2 of Article 67 read: “The High Council of Media shall ensure that equal access to State media is guaranteed to all independent candidates, political organisations and coalitions of political organisations in competition.”

In the draft law, the Council is not mentioned anywhere, as its role will be undertaken by NEC itself.

Paragraph 2 of Article 63 says: “For a campaign through media, the Commission ensures that all independent candidates, political organizations and coalitions of political organizations in competition are allotted equal access in the State media.”

A review of the draft law also shows that nearly all the amendments proposed by the opposition bloc of four lawmakers from the Democratic Green Party of Rwanda and PS Imberakuri, were ignored.

The opposition has been for years demanding that the 5% threshold for anyone or group to enter the Chamber of Deputies, be reviewed. They wanted that independent candidates be given a different standard.

The ‘5% of the total votes’ rule favours political groups, say the opposition, removing any chance for an independent to enter parliament – unless they can be able to put together an election machinery similar to the parties.

As par the draft law, observers and candidates are allowed to have representatives on every polling station, which has remained unchanged.

The agents of candidates are also given right to sign onto the results tally of a particular polling station. However, Article 59 outlines the limitation the agents will have. It states that failure to sign on the voter tally sheets by anyone “does not invalidate the election results.

What this translates to is that in a situation where an agent of a candidate or political party does not agree with the tally sheet, their opposition and refusal to sign has no impact.

In other words, even if many agents of a particular candidate or party refuse to sign onto tally sheets because they do not agree with the results, that cannot be used in a legal process.

As for a demand by the small opposition to have media and candidates able to announce election results alongside the electoral commission, it was ignored. The draft law gives the commission powers as only entity to pronounce results.

Age requirement of 35 years and above for presidential aspirants has been removed from the draft elections law. Instead, the requirement will only remain in the 2003 Constitution as reflected in its Article 99, Section 6.

However, the draft has age requirements for Chamber of Deputies, Senate and many other instances where elections are held for the office bearer.

They are as follows: MP – 21 years, Senator – 40 years, District or Kigali Councilor – 25, Sector and Cell Councilor – 21, Village Committee Member – 21, Mayor of City of Kigali- 35 years.

Another widely reported development that the draft law brings is no voter’s cards will be needed during elections.

Voters will use their national ID to identify themselves at the polling station.

In outlining the change in Parliament, Local Government Minister Prof Anastase Shyaka called the paper voting card as “an unnecessary burden on voters”, saying elections will be conducted using latest technology.

The scrapping of such cards will also save the taxpayer more than Rwf200m ($220,000) that is spent on printing the cards, according to Prof Shyaka.

The draft election law comes as the country is preparing for Senate elections to fill up the 26-member House.

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