Background and context
Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) have a significant role to play in strengthening the quality of democracy. Active and independent civil society can provide an important framework for citizens to express and aggregate their needs, concerns and demands, and offers a channel to engage them into the governance area. More broadly, civil society is universally recognized as one of the key actors to hold public institutions accountable.
Elections are a vital tool in the democratization process, as they provide a platform through which citizens can express their opinions, participate in decisions that affect their lives and hold their representatives accountable.CSOs should therefore play an important role in electoral processes.
Since 2000, Rwanda has consistently followed an electoral calendar, which has helped to foster a culture of political participation. According to the 2016 Rwanda Governance Scorecard, universal adult suffrage for all citizens scored 94.10%.
Recently, on 2-4 September 2018, Rwanda took to the polls to elect the lower chamber of parliament. An estimated 7.1 million voters participated in the elections, and the elections maintained Rwanda’s position as the country with the highest proportion of female MPs. Rwanda’s current election cycle will end next year with senatorial elections.
Having established the paramount importance of CSOs in electoral processes and the sustenance of democracy and governance, it is imperative to discusstheir key roles andresponsibilities in the wake of current political transition in Rwanda. These roles and responsibilities include, but are not limited to voter education, and monitoring of election processes. Individuals and groups, both on the national and international scene, demand that CSOs contribute to ensuring credible elections. The responsibility ofmaintaining credible, free and fair elections is no longer solely that of the Independent National Electoral Commission (NEC), but also CSOs have an increasingly significant role to play.
It is against this background and in the framework of the joint programme on Strengthening Civil Society Organization for Responsive and Accountable Governance in Rwanda, the Government of Rwanda/RGB and the One-UN/UNDP, in partnership with the Rwanda Civil Society Platform (RCSP) and the Embassy of Belgium in Rwanda and in collaboration with NEC and GMO, will be conducting a policy dialogue on the role of CSOs in electoral processes with a special focus on the recently concluded legislative elections 2018 in Rwanda as well as other planned elections in the future.
During the dialogue, Civil Society actors, development partners, International NGOs and Governmentstakeholders will reflect on the role CSOs have played in electoral processes, highlight best practices and formulate recommendations to strengthen their role.