THE PRESIDENT Of the Labour Party (PRS) in Rwanda, Jean Baptist Rucibigango told The Chronicles in an exclusive interview that his party is weak and not ready to contesting for the presidency in 2017 when President Kagame is expected to end his second and final constitutional mandate. Hon Rucibigango said “…PSR is not ready” and in 2017,
“we shall still be organising ourselves…we have no money to open up offices [out of Kigali]….we are still interested in giving civic education” to our members.
The leader of PSR also wondered “who would be interested in leading a country like Rwanda still divided along ethnic lines” among other problems cited. The ruling Rwanda Patriotic Front party candidate President Kagame is serving out his last term of office – but already, a small coalition partner the Rwanda Labour Party (PSR) categorically affirms it does not aspire to take over the highest office in the land.
Besides stating that his party is not ready to lead, he added: “That [seeking the presidency] has never been part of our political programme,” said party leader, Hon Jean Baptist Rucibigango in an interview with The Chronicles last week. “We do not want power. Our programme entails advocacy for the social welfare of all Rwandans.”
The motivation behind this position, Rucibigango says, is because parties focus more on taking the presidency – overlooking the concerns of the electorate. As to whether the constitution should be amended to make room for President Kagame to rule until he sees fit to leave, Rucibigango preferred not to speak about the issue saying, “leave me out of that debate”.
The PSR party rose as a university student movement in the 1980s. In 1992, following mounting internal and donor pressure on ex-Rwandan president Juvenal Habyarimana to open up political space to his critics, PSR was born. It had observer status during the 1993 Arusha talks that eventually led to a peace deal meant to halt the advancing Rwanda Patriotic Army rebels.
PSR would eventually break up just before the 1994 genocide– in what was blamed on the ruling MRND party. The current leadership even accuses the splinter group – which called itself the United Democratic Workers (RTD), of being part of the execution machine for the genocide. Over the years, it has been in coalition with the dominant RPF – backing President Kagame in the 2003 and 2010 presidential polls. During the parliamentary elections in 2003 and 2008, PSR along with six other small parties agreed with the RPF to field a single list of candidates. PSR received one single seat among the list of 42 slots on the coalition list. Rucibigango is party leader and the only PSR Member of Parliament.
Why is PSR not ready to contest for the presidency?
“You could win power by playing the ethnic card,” says the lawmaker. “PALIMEHUTU manipulated the Hutus and won more than 80 percent of the vote, or ZANU-PF of [President Robert] Mugabe sidelined others through the same tactic. “PALIMEHUTU’s rule did not last for even ten years as it was deposed in 1973 despite winning more than 80 percent of the votes earlier!” adds Rucibigango.
“Am trying to illustrate to you that putting political power at the front of a party’s political programme, is not a good idea. PALIMEHUTU ruled for less than ten years!” So who does PSR intend to back come 2017? Rucibigango is non-committal, and prefers not to even speak about the subject.
“We just elected President Kagame last year,” he argues. “In the next six years, we are much more concerned on improving the lives of Rwandans than who will replace the RPF candidate.”
When put to him that some parties have publicly said they want the constitution amended to allow President Kagame continue ruling past 2017, Rucibigango simply retorted: “I have not yet thought about that…The discussion about that [President Kagame seeking reelection] should end there. If others have decided, it is their choice.”
When we informed him that the Ideal Democratic Party (PDI) of Internal Affairs Minister, Sheikh Musa Fazil Harelimana had made it clear they wanted President Kagame’s two term lengthened, Rucibigango said the parties had an unwritten understanding not to comment on each other’s affairs.
“That can result in criticising others…that could be the culture elsewhere, but in Rwanda we have chosen the path of mutual respect…actually we should end that discussion or the interview stops.
“Besides, choosing who PSR will support is not the choice of Rucibigango. NO! It is a long process that involves all party organs right from the grassroots,” says the lawmaker, but he declines to divulge the number of party members on the PSR register. “We have many members – actually even you [The Chronicles reporters] are members because you are employees; the challenge we face is resources to organise our members,” Rucibigango says, before adding: “Besides, even if I had a particular figure, I would not tell you. That is a secret every party keeps.”
Dr. Jean Baptist Mberabahizi under fire
Among the founders of PSR is exiled politician Dr. Jean Baptist Mberabahizi – who is currently Secretary General of the European-based wing of the United Democratic Forum Inkingi (FDU-Inkingi), the party of embattled opposition politician Victoire Ingabire who is on prosecution in the country over several serious charges.
Rucibigango says Mberabahizi has “no personality”. “He left PSR…joined the RPF after the war and is now with Ingabire. Would you take such a person seriously?” poses Rucibigango, adding that he had attempted to woo Mberabahizi against joining Ingabire, but it was too late.“He has no ideology,” he recaps.