Musa Sirma, Kenya’s former EAC Affairs Minister
Dar es Salaam, Tanzania – Measures should be taken to encourage responsive and proactive journalism in the electoral process, while abiding by the code of conduct for the media in Rwanda, the East African Community (EAC) Observer Mission said Thursday.
“Despite existence of various media outlets, Rwanda’s media did not significantly engage with the electoral process,” the mission has noted in its preliminary statement on the country’s parliamentary elections, which were held 16-18 Sept. 2013.
The 40-member election observer team, headed by Kenya’s former EAC Affairs Minister Musa Sirma, said its statement contained preliminary findings on Rwanda’s third parliamentary polls in the post-1994 genocide era.
“Whilst the media freedom is guaranteed in the constitution, the coverage of the elections was generally lacklustre,” the statement said, urging support in building capacity for the proposed Media Self-regulatory Board.
Expressing general satisfaction with the technical capacity and competency of Rwanda’s National Electoral Commission (NEC) in managing the electoral process, the mission advised that in future polls, the Commission “should ensure that accredited political party and independent candidates’ agents have proper identification while carrying out poll watching”.
As a general recommendation, the observer mission said Rwanda needs to sustain the holding of continuous and inclusive dialogue among political stakeholders to encourage pluralism of opinions and consensus on electoral processes.
On election observation, it said: “Measures (should) be taken to amend the restrictive provision in the electoral law to allow flexibility in movement of observers; [and] Encourage domestic observation to enhance ownership of the electoral process as well as the outcome thereof, by the citizens”.
In addition, the EAC observer team has recommended that concerted efforts should be made to sensitise political parties and citizens in general on the importance of poll watching.
“Where possible, participation through volunteerism should be encouraged as in the case of polling clerks. NEC should ensure that accredited political party and independent candidates’ agents have proper identification while carrying out poll watching,” the mission said.
The EAC Observer Mission commended the people of Rwanda for “peaceful conduct” of the parliamentary elections, and encouraged the sustenance of the country’s institutionalised culture of dialogue “by ensuring that it is as inclusive as possible as this remains key for the consolidation of democracy”.
“The fact that Rwanda is the only state in Eastern Africa to have ratified the African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance presents optimism on the future of democracy in the country,” said the statement.
Asserting that the polls were conducted in accordance with Rwanda’s constitutional and legal framework and the outcome reflected the will of the people, the mission urged “all parties who may be aggrieved to pursue legally established channels to resolve any disputes that may arise relating to the outcome of these elections”.