Local observers cite intimidation in presidential polls

Wednesday, 11 August 2010 15:07 by Margaret Cappa
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Kigali: Some shop owners were forced to close for campaign rallies by some civil servants and the voting method of using fingerprint lacks anonymity, according to the Civil Society Election Observation Mission (CSEOM) – which included local observers.

“People were being forced to close shops, and in some areas you could find all the shops closed,” said Eugene Rwibasira, Chief Observer of the Rwanda Civil Society Platform, on Wednesday.

“We have information that some local leaders forced people to close shops”

The locations of where such discrepancies occurred have not been released yet, but will be made public in the CSEOM’s final report set to be released in one month. These observers are also examining whether or not voting with one’s fingerprint denotes the anonymity of secret ballot voting.

The report of the local observers came after the release of the full provisional results showing that incumbent President Paul Kagame scooped 93.08 percent of the vote.

The National Electoral Commission (NEC) said 98.06 percent of registered voters cast ballots, a huge turnout. Some 5 178 492 had been on the election register – which is more than half the population.

The local observers’ report said the government did not give the directive to local leaders to tell citizens to close shops. Government is equally concerned by these actions. It was something local leaders did on their own, said Rwibasira.

“As for leadership forcing people to vote, we don’t have any info on that yet.”

The problem with civil servants acting subjectively and possibly intimidatingly lies in the fact that the law is silent on the conduct of public servants during elections, said the CSEOM report.

“The law on elections does not state clearly the problems about civil servants who participate in the campaign and electoral process,” said Rwibasira.

“Some civil servants participated in campaigns and used government means like vehicles, so we are suggesting the law should be amended so that in the next elections those things aren’t repeated.”

In terms of the use of voting with one’s fingerprint, the argument has been raised that Rwandans may vote for a certain candidate if they feel their vote can be tracked by their print. The fingerprint has been used as the voting method in order to allow those who are illiterate to vote in an easy and straight-forward manner.

“But in a country where there are education programs in rural areas on things like infant health, people could surely be taught how to hold a pencil and mark an X beside a picture of a candidate,” said one observer who wished to remain anonymous.

While it would be very difficult to track each and every fingerprint and match them up with their owner, the perception of someone being able to track one’s vote could be intimidating.

“I think we should consider alternatives,” said Rwibasira, who agreed voting should be a totally anonymous act.

“In a backwards society where everybody wants to know who voted for who, these things should not be encouraged.”

The CSEOM report also stated the transmission and consolidation of results needs improvement in some districts.

Some concerns were raised about the media environment too. The RPF was the dominating presence in private media reporting and advertisement during the electoral process, stated the report, and reporting news was always in the order of RPF, PL, PPC and PSD.

Finally, the report agrees the RPF had considerably more campaign resources than the other competing parties.

The results show that the PSD candidate Jean-Damascène Ntawukuriryayo got 5.15% (256,488 votes); Prosper Higiro of PL had 1.37% (68,235 votes); as the only woman in the race, Alvera Mukabaramba picked up on 0,40% for her PPC party (20,107 votes).