Rwanda's elections: what to watch
Rwandans go to the polls on Monday to choose from among four candidates, one of whom is current President Paul Kagame and the other three who were specially selected to pose no threat whatsoever to Kagame's rule. Here are a few things to watch as the day draws near:
- The government (and its mouthpiece, the New Times) will tout the presence of Commonwealth election observers, who arrive in-country this week, as evidence that the elections are free and fair. There's no reason to believe the Commonwealth won't certify these elections as free and fair, but keep in mind that a serious observation mission would have arrived in the country six months or a year ago. By not allowing the most significant opposition parties to register their candidates for the election, Rwanda's government sealed the deal long before this week.
- There's no reason to believe that any electoral shenanigans will affect the August 9 polling, although it's likely that the burgomeisters will, ahem, strongly encourage every adult in their municipalities to vote.
- However, look carefully at the percentage by which Kagame wins the elections. He's likely to garner more than 90% of the vote (really), but some observers believe that his actual total will be tamped down in order to make the election appear more legitimate. If he wins with 75-80% of the vote, that's a likely sign that the numbers were manipulated after the fact, albeit in a direction that won't affect the outcome.
- The New Times staff will continue to take dictation from various government officials, releasing breathless stories assuring us that the elections are a model of democracy, completely free and fair, open to real debate, etc.
- What happens after the elections? Rwanda likely returns to its usual, sleepy self. However, the status of Laurent Nkunda will be a top question, both for the international community and Nkunda's supporters within the RPF. Nkunda is supposed to get a hearing in a military court in September. No one - not the RPF, Kagame, the RPF dissenters, Kabila, or Museveni - wants Nkunda to testify in a civilian court. This will be key.
- Watch for what happens with Kayumba Nyamwasa. Whether there's a new assassination attempt or he attempts to use violence to affect outcomes in Kigali, it's gonna be messy.
- See also this excellent political risk analysis from Reuters' Hez Holland.