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View from K'la

April 30, 2003
New Vision Reporter, Kampala
May 26, 2003 will be a momentous day in Rwanda. On this day, a
referendum to adopt the draft constitution will be held throughout the
According to a government official in Kigali, the referendum will be the
climax of the constitutional review process that traces its origin to the
 1993 Arusha Agreement. "The draft constitution has been discussed
by Cabinet and the National Assembly. The masses are also being
asked to express their opinion on the draft," said the government
official who declined to be named.
After the referendum, Rwandans will be gearing for Presidential and
Parliamentary elections. The transitional provisions in the draft
constitution stipulates that Presidential and Parliamentary elections be
held within a period of six months after the referendum. If the
referendum is held to on May 26, then elections will be held at least
before November 26, this year.
Although there is said to be no excitement in Rwanda about the
elections, the region is anxious to see how Rwandans elect a
leadership of their choice. President Paul Kagame has been quoted as
insisting that the elections have to take place in whatever
circumstances. These elections will bring to an end the transitional
government of national unity that took over power in July 1994, after
the genocide.
At first there were reports that Parliament would be allowed to choose
the president. But the draft constitution provided that the president
be elected by all Rwandans who are 18 years old and above. Another
provision in the draft states that the elections be held under a multi-
party arrangement. This however, puts President Kagame in a tricky
situation. The experience of the last elections in Burundi, where
benevolent Tutsi leader Maj. Pierre Buyoya pulled crowds on his
campaign trail, but was beaten by a Hutu leader on election day is not
lost on Kagame. Some observers say that some opposition political
parties have been banned in order to deny them a platform for
Events on the ground point to a situation where the government is
becoming more and more intolerant to the political opposition. For
instance, MDR (Republican Democratic Movement), one of the oldest
and biggest political parties has been banned. There are also reports
that some members of the MDR and PDR-Ubuyanja (Party for
Democratic Renewal) are facing unprecedented harassment from
government authorities.
Mr. Celestin Kabanda, the former State Minister for Economic Planning
and leader of the MDR, was forced to resign his ministerial position
over allegations that he is involved in a conspiracy to resurrect Hutu
supremacy ideas. Almost all MDR top leaders were blacklisted in a
Parliamentary report that also recommended the banning of MDR
party. The respected and soft-spoken Prime Minister Bernard Makuza,
who has distanced himself from the day-to-day running of the party
was also mentioned in the report. Prime Minister Makuza's father was
one of the founders of the MDR party.
This paints a very bad picture for the RPF and President Kagame who
would benefit from a well-organised poll. Given the history of mutual
ethnic suspicion in Rwanda, the clampdown may be interpreted as
targeting a particular ethnic group. This may tempt some leaders who
feel cheated to drum up ethnic support for dissent.
The clampdown on the opposition politicians aside, three people have
already shown interest to stand for presidency. They are Jean
Napomoscene Nayinzira, Faustin Twagiramungu and Pasteur Bizimungu.
 Although President Kagame has never made it public that he would
stand, he has stopped hinting that he will run for president.
Napomosecene Nayinzira is Chairman of the PDC (Christian Democratic
Party). From 1994, he has served as the Minister for Environment and
Tourism, Minister for Information, Minister for Public Service and as
Chairman of the Unity and Reconciliation Commission. He is now an MP
representing his PDC.
Faustin Twagiramungu was the first post-genocide Prime Minister.
Before that, he was President General of the MDR party and Managing
Director of STIR, a private transport concern in which government had
Another person who had shown interest in the Rwandan presidency is
former President Pasteur Bizimungu.
However, some provisions in the law may disqualify both
Twagiramungu and Bizimungu. Twagiramungu has been in exile for
more than two years which disqualifies him while Bizimungu can not
offer his candidature from prison. The only person who has the chance
 to appear on the ballot paper is Nayinzira.
Problem is that Nayinzira is very inconsequential in the politics of
Rwanda. Already some people in Rwanda are saying he has been
persuaded to present some sort of opposition to whoever the RPF
candidate will be. If the only opposition to Kagame is Nayinzira, then
Kagame might about 95% of the votes. The only candidate who would
 give Kagame a run for his money is the abrasive Twagiramungu.
Twagiramungu who does not have any case to answer in Rwanda
however, has the problem of not having a party under which to
contest. The Rwanda Transitional National Assembly resolved to ban
the MDR party. But in an interview with the BBC, Twagiramungu said
that banning his party cannot deter him from standing for president. He said he still has options. "I can stand as an independent candidate
 or I can form another political party under which I would run for
president," he told the BBC.
For former President Bizimungu, the situation is even bleaker. A
relative who said he had just visited him in prison last week told this
writer on phone from Kigali that his health was deteriorating. His PDR-
Ubuyanja is also banned.
However, there is a likelihood that notwithstanding his insistence to
run, Twagiramungu will not step on Rwandan soil; even when it is the
office of the president which is at stake. "Twagiramungu is just playing
 psychological games on President Kagame. He has already driven
Kagame to ban MDR. He used to play such games with the late
President Habyarimana. I am sure he does have the stomach to stand
up to President Kagame in Rwanda," said a Rwandan journalist in Kigali.
Although circumstances on the ground in Rwanda cannot be described
as conducive for multi-party presidential elections, these elections will
be influenced by pressure from donors and the need for the Tutsi
minority leadership to gain political legitimacy. If an election is about
making political choices, Rwandans do not seem to have options but
to endorse the status quo where Kagame remains president.