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Rwanda “elections will be free and fair” – Dutch Ambassador

Kigali – The donor community says the introduction of a revised electoral code should ensure a peaceful and technically sound ballot, following the European Union’s recommendations after the 2008 legislative elections where they found procedural irregularities in over half the polling stations.

Frans Makken, Dutch ambassador and co-chair of the EU fund for the NEC, said results will be published outside polling stations and ballot boxes numbered to aid transparency.

“The electoral law has been adjusted for the better, thousands of volunteers have received training, instructions have been adjusted in line with EU observations. We trust that the conduct of the elections will be free and fair,” Makken told Reuters Friday.

“There are four presidential candidates who all get a fair chance to campaign and to get their manifestos across to the electorate… But the sheer size of the RPF, and the fact that it has seven years of successful socio-economic development to show for, makes it very difficult for the others to compete.”

Rights groups, the United Nations and major donors like the U.S. and Britain have expressed growing concern that the election is taking place in a repressive environment.

“At this point we are less worried about the actual conduct of the elections, than the events that have preceded it over the last few weeks and months,” Carina Tertsakian, Rwanda researcher for New York-based Human Rights Watch told Reuters by telephone.

“The parties that we could describe as opposition parties have been silenced and marginalised one-by-one.”

For the National Electoral Commission (NEC), however, the August 09 poll will be free, fair and more competitive than 2003 when incumbent Paul Kagame won over 90 percent of the vote.

“Judging from what I see from this election campaign I find this more competitive and more active than the 2003 elections and that makes me think that it’s not going to be a one-horse race,” NEC Executive Secretary Charles Munyaneza said.

Rights groups accuse President Kagame, who is running on the ruling Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF) party ticket, of cracking down on critics and aspiring political opponents in the run up to the ballot. He has fired back accusing the western media and rights groups of trying to undermine his government by making up a crisis which not there.

Kagame faces off against the deputy speaker of parliament Damascene Ntawukuriryayo, who is seen as his biggest contender, senate vice-president Prosper Higiro and Senator Alvera Mukabaramba of the Party of Peace and Concord.

Three outspoken parties were unable to field candidates after after they failed to meet all the requirements including a minimum number of supporters backing their candidacies.

Munyaneza said 1,500-2,000 local and international observers would monitor the 16,000 polling stations, led by a team from the Commonwealth, which Rwanda, a former Belgian colony, joined last year.


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