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Rwanda: 2017 Election – All Set for Diaspora to Cast Its Vote

RWANDA_POLLING kits have arrived at nearly all the 98 polling stations abroad, the National Electoral Commission has said.

Last week, the commission told reporters that it would start delivery of necessary equipment and material – ballot papers and ink – to polling stations starting with the Diaspora polling stations.

The Diaspora community is slated to cast its vote on August 3, a day before citizens in the country make their choice on who of incumbent President Paul Kagame (RPF-Inkotanyi), Frank Habineza (Demoractic Green Party of Rwanda), and Philippe Mpayimana, an independent, would lead the country’s transformation agenda for the next seven years.

According to figures from the electoral commission, there are over 40,000 registered Diaspora voters from the different countries across the world.

Speaking to The New Times yesterday, Charles Munyaneza, the executive secretary of the National Electoral Commiwsion (NEC), said the materials were dispatched to the different embassies between Friday and Sunday.

“What we are doing now is following up together with a team at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to ensure the materials arrive in all destinations,” Munyaneza said.

“There is a joint team in place to ensure things go according to plan. And, materials have actually arrived in most stations by now.”

The only election gear that was not shipped, he explained, was the bulky ballot boxes. The commission facilitated embassies to purchase them from their respective locations overseas to ease things, Munyaneza said.

Overcoming challenges

Some of the challenges include countries where voters will be compelled to make long distances to exercice their civic duties. One such instance is China, where there is only one polling station, at the Rwandan Embassy in Beijing.

The commission attributed this to the Chinese laws that prohibit polling stations to be set up elsewhere outside a country’s official embassy.

Despite this test, Alex Ntwali, the chairperson of the Rwandan Community in China, told The New Times that they are overcoming challenges as they target to have more than 95 per cent of their members participating in the poll.

According to Ntwali, the Rwandan community in China is over 1,200.

“Rwandans living in China are highly mobilised for the elections even though we have a big challenge of only one polling station in Beijing, and China is a very big country. From Guangzhou [in southern China where Ntwali lives] to Beijing is almost four hours by air,” Ntwali said.

“We have mobilised members to use trains which take longer (22hours), but are less costly as most of the people are students. All Diaspora cells in different Chinese cities are ready to go to vote, and our embassy has provided hotel accommodation for people who will travel to vote as additional motivation.”

Rwanda’s High Commissioner to Zambia, Monique Mukaruliza, also told The New Times that the Rwandan community in the southern African country and in Malawi are well mobilised.

Those who are eligible voters are slightly more than 400, she said.

“Mobilisation activities are going well. The mood is good; they are waiting for August 3 to vote. There are no campaigns here, meaning that the mood is not like in Rwanda,” Mukaruliza said.

“We have one polling station in the capital Lusaka that will serve both Rwandan communities in Zambia and in Malawi. We have already received the voting materials and have well-established communication channels between NEC, Ministry of Foreign Affairs and our High Commission.”

Indian universities helpful

Mucyo Rutishisha, the second counsellor at the Rwandan High Commission to India, said preparations were going without a hitch.

India currently hosts more than 600 Rwandans.

Rutishisha said: “We are expecting to receive today [yesterday] the materials from NEC. For India, we requested and NEC agreed to allow us to have six polling stations. India is a vast country where the Diaspora (almost entirely comprises students) is spread in multiple locations far from each other.”

He said they were excited about being able to exercise their civic duty.

“We have students on longer stay in India, public servants undergoing short training, Rwandans who are in India for medical treatment. Indian colleges or universities are also very helpful in this exercise as they have availed their facilities for Rwandans to use free of charge,” Rutishisha said.

Rwandan student leaders will help the Mission in making sure the elections are done in accordance with NEC guidelines, Rutishisha said.

“Two diplomats will be deployed in stations with big concentrations of Rwandans to oversee and report on the conduct of the elections,” he added.

Polling stations in India are at the embassy in New Delhi; Parul University, Vadodara in Gujarat; CMS College, Coimbatore in Tamil Nadu; Salem-Tamil Nadu; Annamalai University, Chidambaram-Tamil Nadu; and at Jain University, Bangalore-Karnataka.

Fired up

Excitement is also high in North America.

Liliane Iradukunda, a Rwandan living in Canada, yesterday tweeted: “Oh yes here in Canada; four voting stations: Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto and Edmonton. August 3, we can’t wait.”

Alice Cyusa, former head of the Rwanda Diaspora Global Network, will vote from South Bend, Indiana, US. There are nine other polling stations, she said.

Others are: Washington DC; New York City; Sacramento, California; Los Angeles, California; Dallas, Texas; Phoenix, Arizona; Atlanta, Georgia; Portland, Maine; and Grand Rapids, in Michigan.

Cyusa said: “We are geared up, prepared, fired up like never before. Our voices count.”

There were only two polling stations in the US during the previous presidential elections.

According to Eng. Daniel Murenzi, president of the Rwanda Diaspora Global Network, the mood is high ahead of the poll.

Murenzi said: “Most Diaspora members are happy for the increase in number of polling stations, as well as the online mechanism for verification of where one will vote from.

“We are also happy to have organised, ourselves, to attend the campaigns [in the country] after having been part of (constitutional) referendum held in December 2015. We are happy some Diaspora members were able to come and attend the campaigns.”

©The New Times

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