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Rwanda’s First Female Parliament Speaker Draws Intense Criticism

Rwanda's newly elected speaker of parliament is coming under intense criticism after she was accused of not having enough qualification and ability to steer the country's parliament. The critics say Mukantabama Rose's lack of credentials would allow President Paul Kagame's ruling party to bulldoze its agenda through parliament. But the government says the allegations are unfounded and sexist. All these followed Miss Mukantabama's election Tuesday as speaker to lead the first ever female-majority parliament in the world.

Jean Bosco Gasasira is the editor of the Umuvugizi independent newspaper in Rwanda. From the capital, Kigali he tells reporter Peter Clottey that Rwandans are divided over the election of Miss Mukantabama Rose as speaker of parliament.

"There are mixed reactions after the speaker was elected, and some people feel that the majority of women being in parliament is okay. But from the political point of view many are criticizing the speaker for not being experienced enough and political unknown," Gasasira pointed out.

He said some Rwandans are skeptical about the new speaker's ability to handle the job.

"She has been working in civil society in a non-governmental organization. Given that she has been working there on a face value someone give her the benefit of the doubt whether she would be capable of handling the job. But previous speakers of parliament have not been politically strong and some have been characterized as puppets of the ruling RPF (Rwanda Patriotic Front) party," he said.

On the other hand, Gasasira said some Rwandans have expressed excitement over the election of the first female speaker of parliament.

"Rwandans are happy after this lady was elected given the fact that she would become the third most powerful person in the country after President Paul Kagame, and the vice president. Rwandans are also happy that women are dominating parliament, which they welcome as a positive development. But some people are also skeptical that the ruling party RPF would control this parliament like previous parliaments. So, some people are saying there would be no difference in this current parliament and previous ones," Gasasira pointed out.

He said there are speculations that first deputy speaker Ambassador Benis Polisi might wield more political powers than the speaker of parliament because he comes from the ruling party.

"This is true given what the last parliament experienced. He (Ambassador Polisi) was the deputy speaker of the last parliament and has been very experienced and this makes him very powerful in parliament. He was the former secretary general of the ruling party just after the way and also served as the country's ambassador to Belgium. Remember that the ruling party enjoys an overwhelming majority in parliament gives him the chance to force the ruling party's agenda through parliament," he said.

Ms. Mukantabama Rose defeated Mukama Abbas, the only male contesting for the same post with 70 votes to become the leader of Rwanda's Chamber of Deputies.

Rwanda's established constitution adopted after a referendum held in 2003 guarantees 30 per cent quota of the 80 seats for women in the Chamber of Deputies.

In last month's parliamentary election, an unprecedented 20 of the 53 seats went to women after the ruling RPF party endorsed 35 female candidates in an inter-party coalition.