Greens win first seats in Rwandan Parliament

The only registered opposition party in Rwanda, the Democratic Green Party has won two seats in a field dominated by the ruling Rwandan Patriotic Front, which has been accused of suppressing opponents and journalists.

Frank Habineza in Nyaruguru
Frank Habineza in Nyaruguru

Image: DGPR

DGPR leader Frank Habineza on the campaign trail in Nyaruguru, South Rwanda.

Kate Dickinson

A landmark result in the recent Rwandan elections has seen the Democratic Green Party of Rwanda (DGPR) gain two seats in Parliament with five per cent of the total vote.

The DGPR is the only officially registered opposition party standing against the ruling Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) coalition, which gained 74 per cent of the vote and 40 out of 53 seats up for election on 3 September. Other RPF-allied parties winning seats include the Social Democratic Party (five seats) and the Liberal Party (four seats).

Five per cent of the vote is the minimum amount required to win a seat in Parliament. This is the first time in 24 years – since the RPF took power in 1994 – that an official pposition party has had MPs in Parliament. The leader of the DGPR, Frank Habineza, described the result as a “milestone”, telling The EastAfrican that it “signals the opening up of political space in Rwanda”. He added: “We are not going to be confrontational or engage in running battles but we want to introduce a culture of discussions and debate of the different ideas on the table.

“One of our key promises is to reform land laws to ensure that Rwandans fully own their land rather than renting it from government. We will also ensure that some of the land and property taxes that burden the ordinary citizens are scrapped.”

In a statement on the party’s website, Habineza explained the DGPR’s approach, saying: ‘We campaigned centered on three pillars: transformation, opportunity and prosperity for all – around which our political program rotated.’ As well as land law reform, some key elements of the party’s manifesto include ‘quality healthcare and education, sound environmental management [and] a financial sector that supports green investment and entrepreneurship’.

The European Green Party, a federation of European Green groups, has congratulated the success of the DGPR, with co-chairs Reinhard Bütikofer, Monica Frassoni and Committee Member Evelyne Huytebroeck commenting: “We congratulate Rwandan Green party leader Frank Habineza and Secretary General Jean-Claude Ntezimana for their successful campaign in the parliamentary elections. This is an important victory for the Rwandan Green party, which is now in a position to help shape the East African country’s future.

“The consequences of climate change are most severely felt on the African continent. We hope this victory will help put climate and sustainability firmly on the agenda.”

An estimated 7.1 million citizens voted in the Rwandan elections this year. There are 80 seats up for grabs in the Chamber of Deputies (the lower house of the legislature); as well as the 53 elected by proportional representation, the 2003 Constitution of Rwanda, brought about by RPF President Paul Kagame, decrees that 24 seats are reserved for women and are indirectly elected by local women’s councils and district councils, while two are for youth candidates and one is for a representative of people with disabilities.

With an additional 25 female candidates elected by proportional representation alongside the 24 seats reserved for women, the 2018 elections have cemented Rwanda’s place as the country with the most female MPs.

Critics of the RPF say that the ruling party has too strong a hold over politics and business in Rwanda, with dissenters threatened, harassed and attacked. Human rights charity Amnesty International has claimed that both opposition politicians and journalists have been subject to a severe ‘clampdown’ by the RPF helping to boost Kagame’s strong election wins.

This year, however, the RPF lost its overall majority in Parliament – and with the Greens gaining ground for the first time, there may be hope that political space is indeed ‘opening up’ in Rwanda.