Rwanda: opposition criticize electoral commission for blocking rallies

Frank Habineza, President of Green Party in Rwanda

Frank Habineza, President of Green Party in Rwanda

The National Electoral Commission of Rwanda has come under strong criticism for attempting to stop Rwandan opposition parties from carrying out public rallies against the upcoming referendum on the country’s new constitution which is just six days away.

During a press briefing on Thursday in the Rwandan capital Kigali, some representatives of foreign missions in Kigali said that the Rwandan opposition party- The Green party has claimed that the government has warned them to stop the planned public rallies on the referendum.

Over 6.4 million Rwandese have registered to vote in the forthcoming referendum on the country’s new constitution slated for December 17 and 18. Despite ongoing efforts by some opposition political parties to sensitize their supporters on the upcoming referendum, the Green Party announced in October that it will mobilize Rwandan people not to vote for the constitutional amendment during the referendum.

Green Party chairman, Dr. Frank Habineza, described the move to amend the constitution as an illegality and vowed to push his case up to the President’s office.

“We have heard claims from the Green Party that the commission has quietly warned the opposition to avoid any political gatherings while parliamentarians have also been going around talking to the citizens” one envoy said.

However the National Electoral Commission of Rwanda Executive Secretary Charles Munyaneza denied the claims saying that the commission has no right to stop any political party from exercising its rights as long as the activity is lawful and legal.

“We (NEC) have not stopped anyone from having a public gathering. If it is legal that is fine. Our job is clear, whether they ask residents to vote NO or Yes; we only want citizens to participate in the referendum exercise” Munyaneza said.

The National Electoral Commission (NEC) Chairman Prof. Kalisa Mbanda stressed that the country is prepared to have a free and fair referendum  on the constitution amendment come December 17 and 18, when the voting is scheduled.

Prof. Kalisa observed that the commission has secured enough funds for the vote, adding that enough facilities have been put in place to ensure a successful voting exercise. Results from the referendum will be announced within two days after the voting date.

The referendum will be the fourth to take place in the country after the first in 1961 on the abolition of the monarchy, the other one on multiparty dispensation in 1978 and on the first constitution since the end of the 1994 genocide which was held in 2003.