Women MPs to the fore in healing of Rwanda

Rwanda is on course to become the first country in the world where women MPs outnumber men. The small central African country, known for one of the worst genocides of modern times, is now comparatively stable and the elections passed off peacefully.

The head of the electoral commission, Chrysologue Karangwa, said: "We have not yet got full results, [but] it's clear women representatives will be more than 50 per cent."

Women took at least 44 out of a total of a total of 80 seats according to early results today after voting ended yesterday.

"The problems of women are understood much better, much better by women themselves," voter Anne Kayitesi told the BBC's Focus on Africa. "You see men, especially in our culture, men used to think that women are there to be in the house, cook food, look after the children... but the real problems of a family are known by a woman and when they do it, they help a country to get much better."

The results of the poll - only the second to be held in the country since the death in 1994 of 800,000 people in 100 days - also represented a strong endorsement of the ruling Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), the party set up by the current president Paul Kagame.

Rwanda descended into chaos in 14 years ago as ethnic tensions between the majority Hutus spilled over into a systematic massacre of the minority Tutsis and any of their Hutu sympathisers.

The former rebel, Mr Kagame, whose forces ended the slaughter, is credited by supporters with restoring order and fostering healthy economic growth, especially in new technologies. And the World Bank has praised the coffee-growing country for reforms it credits with its current boom. Rwanda was the fastest reforming economy in a region that is increasingly of interest to emerging markets investors, it said.

Last month US president Bill Clinton - who cites his inaction during the genocide as the main regret from his time in office - agreed to help promote Rwandan coffee.

Since the genocide the government has encouraged women and minorities into politics using a quota system awarding 24 seats to women only candidates and a further three seats split between youth and disabled representatives. Some Rwandans say their numbers in parliament reflect disenchantment with the country's male, genocide-era politicians. Quota MPs cannot represent a political party.

The RPF won three-quarters of votes in the first post-genocide parliamentary polls in 2002. Despite frequent criticism for authoritarian tendencies from the opposition and a long-standing tussle over responsibility for the genocide with former colonial power France, Mr Kagame remains highly popular.

The opposition quickly conceded defeat after it became clear that the RPF had won a landslide. The Socio-Democratic Party were runners-up in the election, with seven seats, and the Liberal Party with four, according to the provisional results. A further 27 parliamentary seats will be assigned through indirect elections this week. The mountainous country has 4.7 million registered voters out of a population of more than 9 million.

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