Columbia International Affairs Online: Working Papers

CIAO DATE: 08/2009

The Effects of Electoral Institutions in Rwanda: Why Proportional Representation Supports the Authoritarian Regime

Alexander Stroh

July 2009

German Institute of Global and Area Studies


While much has been written about the special design of Rwanda’s judiciary in order to handle the aftermath of the genocide in 1994, other institutional actions resulting from the 2003 constitution have rarely been addressed in research. However, the second (partial) parliamentary elections in September 2008 revealed some of the implications which the carefully designed electoral system has for Rwanda’s political development. As a starting point, the paper emphasises the need to link the debates on institutional design in divided societies with elections in authoritarian regimes. Under different regime types, “institutional engineers” may pursue different goals. The paper concludes that in the case of Rwanda proportional representation (PR) has been implemented to support undemocratic goals. PR limits the local accountability of politicians in a political environment in which the government is not controlled by a democratic opposition. Thus, Rwanda’s current PR system facilitates the maintenance of authoritarian power in the country, whereas small constituencies would establish closer links between the local populations and their representatives.