Parliament Dismisses Foreign Envoys Over Rwanda Referendum

Envoys meeting Rwandan legislators Thursday to express concerns on the referendum
Envoys meeting Rwandan legislators Thursday to express concerns on the referendum

A delegation of 18 diplomats accredited to Rwanda Thursday afternoon voiced concern that Rwandans have been hurried into a referendum which runs up to Friday November 18.

The envoys told a joint committee of parliamentarians that citizens were not given sufficient time for sensitization on the amendments made, so they could go for the referendum well informed.

The diplomats said that Rwanda has rushed the process of constitution amendment and the referendum.

“Citizen were not given sufficient space and time to prepare for the referendum. The process was rushed,” said  Erica J. Barks-Ruggles, the US ambassador to Rwanda.

EU head of delegation and the Netherlands also expressed the same position.

However, Senator Tito Rutaremara responded to the diplomats’ concerns saying that the debate started long ago and citizens are well aware of the changes that were made.

“We do not know how long this should have started,” said Rutaremara.

“This debate started in 2010 and evolved with time, until early this year when the citizens came to parliament to ask for amendment.”

MPs explained that the changes were made after citizens demanded it, especially article 101, which is about presidential terms.

Explaining some of the amendments made, MP Rugema Marc said, “We have provided for a seven year transitional period, to allow the current leadership finish their program.”

Rugema however added, “The transitional period is an opportunity, not a gift, reason why there will be elections where everyone will be allowed to contest for the presidency come 2017.”

The Rwandan MPs also explained change in the length of presidential term, which was reduced to five years renewable once instead of seven years renewable.

MP Rugema Marc speaks during the session
MP Rugema Marc speaks during the session

The diplomats also wondered what will happen after the seven year transitional period. After the 7 year transition.

“After the transition, the same presidential elections will be organized where the five year term renewable once will be applied,” responded Faustin Byabarumwanzi, a member of parliament adding, “we have to repeat this; competition will always be open.”

All these changes and others, said Michael Ryan of EU, “Needed more time to be explained to the citizens so that they know what they are voting.”

That prompted MP Juliette Kantengwa to go through all the reach out programs by MPs through all the stages, from the time when Rwandans filed 4 million pledges.

“We made a tour of the country to collect views of the citizens on why they needed amendments, and we were convinced their plea were fair. After all, it is their right to decide how they want to be governed.”

She also said, the same reach out program took the MPs back to the citizens, this ending week, to show them changes that were made.

Diplomats were keen to confirm whether the opposition was given enough forum to express their views, and MPs referred them to the case of Green Party, only party that challenged the amendment of constitution.

Democratic Green Party of Rwanda lost a constitutional case in September, whereby it was arguing that the article 101 does not allow amendment, but the Supreme Court said Rwandans have that right to choose the way they can be governed.

On this opposition, diplomats also wanted to ensure whether opposition would be allowed to file any complaint after referendum.

“It is their constitutional right,” said Rugema.

Discussing outside, MPs were surprised there are some people who are still doubting about the Rwandans knowing what they are voting in the referendum, while they are the ones who demanded for it.

The plea of the diplomats came as Rwandans in Diaspora were casting their vote.

“We are not here to challenge the step the country made. We are just exchanging our view on the procedures,” said Ferdinand Nwonye, acting high commissioner of Nageria to Rwanda.

MPs said, as partners, diplomats have that right to ask for a briefing, adding, they even followed the whole process, like the media did.

Diplomats accredited to Rwanda listen attentively during a session before a joint committee of parliamentarians in Rwanda's Senate  
Diplomats accredited to Rwanda listen attentively during a session before a joint committee of parliamentarians in Rwanda’s Senate

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