By George Kalisa
Kiboga East MP, James Kabajo, who supported Kilak County MP, Gilbert Olanya’s proposal to review the affirmative action policy that seeks to limit the tenure of women Members of Parliament to two terms in order to allow more women join Parliament based his argument on wrong precept.
In the New Vision of September 23, under the title “MPs divided on affirmative action” Kabajo was quoted saying that neighbouring Rwanda has affirmative action, but many women there compete for direct seats.
Also, contributing to the same debate MP Nabilah Naggayi (Kampala Central) accused Ugandan political parties of not being supportive, saying that “in Rwanda a political party knows that 9% of the positions should go to women”.
Both MPs were wrong, and indeed, undermined the electoral laws and electoral process in Rwanda. I would not have a problem with Kabajo’s support for the proposal Olanya mooted, but the reason he gave that many women in Rwanda compete for direct seats was based on either wrong precept or ignorance of the Rwanda’s definition of “direct vote”.
His argument was misleading and buying it would mean Ugandan women would be given a free exit from politics.
MPs should know first that the Rwandan National laws differ a lot from Ugandan laws on the operation of political parties. According to the communications officer at the Rwandan National Electoral Commission (NEC), Moses Bukasa, all political parties, as a legal requirement, are mandated to present a list of their candidates for the direct seats of which a minimum of 30% must be women.
However, the political parties are free to go above the minimum like it was the case in the concluded Parliamentary elections when President Kagame RPF-led coalition presented an 80-member list, 40 of them were women, about 50%, to the NEC.
Therefore, Nabilah Naggayi was wrong when she said that 9% goes to women as a minimum requirement for Rwandan political parties. And, according to the results of the recent polls RPF women won 20 seats about 49% of the 41 which the party won.
This implies that affirmative action is respected during the making of the said list. Reading that article, one discovers that the MP’s arguments falls short of the definition of “direct seats” in the Rwandan context.
After making the list where the ranking of names is based on the primaries carried out by the parties, it is presented to NEC and made public through the press. Then, the chairpersons of the political parties and their task forces go to the electorate to sell their manifestos and canvass for votes for the party, but not an individual candidate campaign for themselves like the case in Uganda.
Who goes to the Parliament? A political party in Rwanda to win a seat is required to have a minimum of 5% of the total votes, according to NEC’s Bukasa.
In practice, the parties that would meet the minimum requirement would proportionately share the seats that are there for grab depending on the percentage they got in an election and those that fall below 5% would not be represented in the Parliament.
For instance, in the recent Parliamentary elections only three political parties met this requirement. PS- Imberakuri and the four independent candidates fell below the required 5% and will not get a seat in Parliament. Kagame’s RPF-coalition with 75% won 41 seats; PSD with 13% won seven seats four of them going to women, PL with 9% won five seats two of them going to women.
Then, women have 24 seats reserved for them by law (affirmative action) and won in an indirect vote and one seat for the female youth.
All that said it would be very wrong to compare Rwanda’s affirmative action with that of Uganda.