Rwandan communities abroad will probably have little or no excuses for not participating in the August Presidential Election following the increase in the number of polling stations in the Diaspora.
Charles Munyaneza, the executive secretary of the National Electoral Commission (NEC), told The New Times in an interview last week that presidential polls would be held in 33 of the 35 countries where Rwanda has diplomatic missions.
Every city in any given country that has more than 40 Rwandan registered voters will have at least one polling station, he added.
“We expect to have more Rwandans in the Diaspora participate in the Presidential Election. Given that some countries are big and tend to have Rwandan communities spread across different provinces or states, we have agreed with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs that we will set up a polling station there as long as we have more than 40 eligible voters there,” Munyaneza said.
The development means that, unlike previously when Diaspora voters had to travel to the Rwandan embassies to register or vote, now they stand a chance of voting from their localities.
Presidential election will take place on August 3, for Rwandans in the Diaspora, and August 4, in the country.
No more complaints
Some of the presidential hopefuls who have already presented their nomination papers to the electoral commission had earlier revealed to The New Times that they feared low voter turn-up in the Diaspora, claiming that NEC had done “little” to encourage the Diaspora to vote.
Frank Habineza, of the Democratic Green Party of Rwanda, said he had received complaints from his supporters abroad, whose names were not appearing on the voters register, while some names appeared on the list of the countries they don’t live in.
However, Munyaneza said NEC was in the process of updating its voters register and had called on the public to do online registration.
“I think some people are not aware of what is happening. We have been trying to see that we increase the number of voters in the Diaspora. We opened an online registration platform and have been calling on the public to register online. We are currently updating our database to ensure that we have a new voters register,” Munyaneza said.
Munyaneza said they have met envoys and officials from the Ministry of Foreign affairs to discuss strategies to increase the number of voters and polling stations in the Diaspora.
The request had been made by Rwandans living abroad during the last National Dialogue (Umushyikirano).
“Previously, we were being constrained by the small number of embassy staff, but this time we have put in place regulations that, instead of sending embassy staff to preside over the elections, we will rely on Rwandan community leaders in specific areas to manage the electoral process and report to the embassies,” Munyaneza said.
According to Munyaneza, the communities will choose among themselves about three people and send their names to their respective embassies for appointment as election volunteers.
Figures from NEC show that during 2010 Presidential Election, there were 21,717 registered voters in the Diaspora who used 22 polling stations and 73 booths. But, as of last week, NEC had hit 26,000 Diasporan registered voters after the online registration system was launched about a week ago. The process is still ongoing.
“The figures we have now show a significant increase. We expect to have more than 40,000 Diasporan voters,” Munyaneza said.
Some 105 polling stations and 133 polling booths are being proposed in the Diaspora.
Countries like Canada and US will have more, about 10 polling stations each, while Italy and Spain, which are being served by Rwandan mission in Paris, will have polling stations for the first time.
“It is not necessarily those countries where we have actual embassies that we will have polling stations, but even in some countries where our embassies have got jurisdiction,” he said.
“The trend suggests that the number of registered voters in the Diaspora will more than double as well as the number of polling stations, hence more people participating in this election than any other elections that we have had before. I urge them to continue visiting our website and register as soon as possible,” Munyaneza said.
Securing Diaspora polls
On security at the Diasporal polling stations, Munyaneza said that the electoral commission had discussed with the Rwandan envoys to get in touch with respective host authorities and address any security concerns that might arise.
“Where we have opened a polling station, that means we have been cleared by the host country. Where we have not, we are not sure of the security or the host country has advised us not to,” he said.
Munyaneza said the electoral commission will set up a communication mechanism whereby the presiding officer of that particular polling station will communicate the results to the embassy and the consolidated results sent back to NEC.
Ballot papers and tally sheets will be shipped from Kigali through the diplomatic valise, he said.
Daniel Murenzi, the chairperson of Rwanda Diaspora Global Network, hailed NEC for “listening” to their concerns and introducing the online registration platform.
“This is a significant development, bringing polling stations closer to the people and involving us in this whole electoral process in really nice. It is now up to us to facilitate our embassies and ensure that the electoral process is safe, free and fair. We are now ready to vote in big numbers,” Murenzi said.