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Rwanda Rugari
The Economist May 03


Faits Divers
Who's Who
Souviens-toi !


                    MAY 2003
Outlook for 2003-04: Domestic politics

Rwanda's first multiparty presidential and parliamentary elections
since independence are scheduled for November 2003. The elections
will mark the return to normal political activity which was suspended
after the ruling Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) took power in 1994,
ending the genocide in which up to 1m Tutsis and moderate Hutus
were killed. Since then, a controlled form of political activity was
allowed in which parties that had been elected before the genocide
were allowed to resume their seats in parliament but were banned
from campaigning or engaging in "normal" political activity. The
elections are to be preceded by a referendum on a new constitution in
 late May, which is expected to be approved by voters
without objection or much enthusiasm. The government has promised
free and fair elections, and the voting is indeed likely to be relatively
transparent and free of noticeable coercion. However, the transition
to open, multiparty politics is being tightly managed by the RPF to
ensure its own victory.
As a result, there is concern that even as the government opens the
political space formally, it will be shutting it down privately through a
number of undeclared mechanisms and strategies. First of all, the
current ban on party politics outside parliament will remain until after
the constitution is ratified by referendum, giving political parties just
five months to prepare for the elections. The state authorities will also
 keep a close eye on the RPF's political competitors once campaigning
starts, and will act swiftly against any deemed to be promoting ethnic
division. The new constitution gives the government extensive powers
to rule against those that it claims are acting against national unity,
and these ill-defined powers will be used by the authorities to
neutralise those that challenge the RPF's political hegemony. The
domination of political power by Tutsis -- one of the main
issues that actually motivates debate -- will remain an "untouchable"
issue before and after the election. As a result, it will be hard for the
other parties to differentiate themselves from the RPF. Meanwhile, the
 main rival to the RPF, the Mouvement democratique republicain (MDR)
which ruled from independence until 1973, is consumed by internal
division and it is unlikely that the party will even unite behind a single
candidate for the presidential election.
A convincing RPF victory is expected in both the presidential and the
parliamentary elections and, though some human rights organisations
are bound to challenge their democratic legitimacy, diplomatic
observers and the international community will endorse them.
Following the RPF's victory in the elections, there will be no break in
continuity with the policies of the current administration. The weak
opposition will be contained and an ever shrinking elite will retain its
political dominance, as it points to the election result as proof of
multi-party democracy and power sharing.
Below the surface, those that break with the ruling elite will head for
exile, joining the many that have already done so. Exiled politicians
remain dispersed and weak, but are starting to join forces, and will
pose a political challenge one day, particularly if they can secure a
powerful backer. But this day seems far off, and the RPF will remain in
power for many years to come.
Political scene: Elections will be held in November 2003

The presidential and legislative elections will be held in November
2003, according to the national electoral commission (REC) which was
 itself finally confirmed by parliament in February. All Rwandans of the
diaspora will be entitled to vote, according to the REC, provided they
are not registered as refugees, which estimates the total electorate
to be around 4m. Those living inside the country will vote at 1,600
polling stations, watched by 350 invited international election
observers. President Kagame has not declared that he will be a
candidate, but he is expected to be the choice of the RPF. The
country's next largest party, Mouvement democratique
republicain (MDR), is in disarray, plagued by factional disputes, which
many suspect have been fomented by the RPF (November 2001, page
13). The leadership of the MDR is contested by Celestin Kabanda and
Emmanuel Twagirumukiza, who both say that they will stand as the
MDR's candidate in the presidential election. However, Mr Kabanda is
reported to have been expelled from his party -- a further sign of its
internal division. A former prime minister Faustin Twagiramungu, who
has been in exile in Belgium for several years, has also said that he
wants to stand for the presidency.
However, the government has said that Mr Twagiramungu cannot
become a candidate unless he returns to Rwanda.
Another potential heavyweight candidate likely to be prevented from
standing is a former president, Pasteur Bizimungu, who leads Parti
democratique pour le renouveau (PDR), but has been in prison since
mid- 2002 on charges of stirring up racial division (August 2002, page
13). Despite pleas from human rights organisations, the ban on party
political activity imposed in 1994 will be lifted only after the
constitution has been ratified by referendum in late May, giving
political parties just five months to organise themselves, raise funds,
and campaign for the election. This gives the well-organised and
relatively wealthy RPF an enormous advantage over its
rivals. In late 2002 the International Crisis Group (ICG), a
Brussels-based think tank, published a report stating that the
advantages for the RPF that are built in to the system indicate that
the transition to democracy is spurious and that the legacy of the
1994 genocide is being manipulated to perpetuate the grip on power of
 a small elite. The report called on the international community not to
 support the elections (February 2003, page 14). However, the ICG's
call appears not to have been heeded by donors, many of whom are
planning substantial material and financial assistance.