Now Rwanda inches closer to referendum

The Rwanda Senate on Tuesday unanimously voted in favour of the proposed amendments to the Constitution that would allow President Paul Kagame to run for a third term.

Senate President, Bernard Makuza, told journalists that “two steps now remain” before Rwandans go to a referendum to vote for constitutional change.

“Today’s vote was the third last exercise in the process. Our work is not yet done,” Mr Makuza said, after all the 26 senators had voted in favour of constitutional change.

READ: Rwanda senate okays President Kagame third term

The approved changes will be sent to the lower chamber, where they are largely expected to be passed, after which the draft constitution will be sent to the President’s office for approval.

In total, 30 articles of the constitution have been altered in content, 25 in phrasing, while 122 remained intact. Among the 30 is article 101, which cuts presidential terms from seven to five years.

The Senate, however, was in favour of the contradicting Article 172, which allows a transitional term of seven years, before Article 101 can be implemented alongside other modifications to the Constitution.

This development has been challenged by the Democratic Green Party of Rwanda, which says that article 172 is a “key challenge to peaceful transfer of power and sustainable peace and security.”

“The Democratic Green Party of Rwanda will, therefore, conduct a no change campaign when the referendum is confirmed,” the opposition party’s Secretary General, Jean Claude Ntezimana, said in an interview.

According to the party, the proposed changes do not promote inclusive democracy but suffocate constructive political opposition.

But opposition to Kagame’s third term is not the only agenda that the party is confronting in the proposed new constitution.

With a total of 30 articles of the constitution set to be altered in content, it is presumed that many articles are being changed to preserve, not only President Kagame’s stay in power, but even that of those around him.

Green Party opposes

“The amended constitution favours the ruling party but also gives more powers to those in Cabinet. If you look at Article 168, senators in office at the time of commencement of this revised Constitution shall continue the term of office for which they have been elected or appointed,” said Mr Ntezimana.

“Therefore, there is no way they could have failed to pass the revised constitution since it accords them more power. It seems as if they are utilising it for their benefits. For example, to-date, there are no age limits for a president. If the lawmakers were forward-looking, how could such a simple but important element skip their mind?”

Mr Ntezimana adds that despite the Constitution noting that the party with majority of seats in the Chamber of Deputies shall not exceed 50 per cent of all members of Cabinet, the Green Party still has no space.

The party does not have any representation in government, Mr Ntezimana argues that the constitution promotes power sharing with the ruling party, which kills fair competition and real opposition.

“Having no representation in parliament or Cabinet means that we find it difficult to get funds to push our political agenda. The law does not even allow us to source funds from external or internal partners, but from our own party members,” he said.

He added: “We understand that other political parties with representation have a form of coalition with the ruling party — and that is okay. But what we want is an inclusive form of government that promotes true political opposition, which is not necessarily confrontational but constructive.”

Constitutional change was triggered this year when 3.7 million people — over 60 per cent of voters —signed a petition calling for Kagame to stand again in 2017.

Although President Kagame, 58, is yet to officially declare intention for a third term, his critics argue that it is just a matter of time before he does so.