A national parliamentary election began Monday in the East African country of Rwanda, and the ruling Rwandan Patriotic Front, or RPF, is expected to maintain control over the national government. This is no ordinary election. Rwanda’s electoral process is unique, as is the East African country of 12 million, an international aid darling whose violent past has given way to dazzling economic growth and development, but whose repressive tendencies are frequently criticized by domestic dissidents and global human rights groups. Rwanda’s parliament is bicameral. The upper house — the Senate, with 26 seats — is indirectly elected by various political groups and institutions, while the lower house — the Chamber of Deputies, with 80 seats — has 53 members elected by the people, with 27 indirectly elected by special interest groups. Of those 27 seats, 24 are reserved for women, two are for young people and one must be filled by a disabled person.
The 53 people who will be chosen by the electorate this week are not voted for directly by individual constituencies; instead, Rwandans vote at the provincial level for parties, each of which offers up a list of its top candidates. The results give each party a percentage, which in turn determines how many of its candidates are sent to parliament. This system has the benefit of cutting down on divisiveness and personality politics, but it also empowers parties at the expense of individual politicians and their supporters.
The ruling RPF is the party of Rwandan President Paul Kagame; it won 35 out of 53 elected seats in the last parliamentary election, and is allied to smaller parties including the Liberal Party and the Social Democratic Party. The RPF first came to power after fighting to end the 1994 genocide that pitted extremist ethnic Hutus against Tutsis and moderates, killing about 800,000 people. This will be the country’s third parliamentary election since that devastating episode.