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Rwandan Legislative Election Progressing Smoothly, say Officials - 2003-09-30

Rwandans headed to the polls Tuesday to elect 53 members of the country's 80-seat Chamber of Deputies. This is the second day of balloting.

Voters casting their ballots in Rwanda's first legislative elections since the 1994 genocide could choose a candidate from one of eight political parties or 17 independents.

According to the head of the steering committee for the independent Program of Election Monitoring, Noel Twagiramungu [no relation to Faustin Twagiramungu], preliminary reports show that the voting at the country's 1,400 polling stations is going well.

"In general, I think the election is free and there is no visible pressure," he said. "If, for instance, we compare to what happened for presidential elections, we think now the situation is more calm. People seem to be somehow free to vote."

He says there seems to be fewer voters going to the polls than in the presidential election, judging by the fact that no long lines are forming at the polling stations.

On Monday, representatives of youth and disabled organizations elected three members to the Chamber of Deputies. The chamber's remaining 24 seats are to be filled by women, who are expected to be elected Thursday by local government officials and representatives of women's organizations.

Rwanda also has a 26-seat Senate whose members are expected to be chosen Thursday by President Paul Kagame, local government officials and others.

National Electoral Commission chairman Chrisologue Karangwa says this week's elections open a significant chapter in Rwanda's history. He says they signal the end of transitional leadership following the 1994 tribal bloodletting in which as many as one million Tutsis and moderate Hutus were killed by Hutus.

President Kagame's Rwandese Patriotic Front took power afterwards to restore order and prepare the country for multi-party elections.

Mr. Karangwa says he is satisfied.

"In the name of the National Electoral Commission I can tell you that I am very happy about what is happening in our country now," he said.

He says the elections are progressing smoothly and results are expected sometime on Wednesday. He estimates a voter turnout of about 60 to 70 percent.

This is the second time Rwandans have gone to the polls in a little more than a month. Rwanda's presidential election was held on August 25. Incumbent Paul Kagame won with almost 95 percent of the vote.