independent

Wednesday 16 April 2014

Rwandans vote but no contest seen for Kagame's party

The president of Rwanda, Paul Kagame

Rwandans voted in a parliamentary election today that is widely expected to hand an easy win to the ruling coalition in a national assembly that may be asked to change the constitution to allow President Paul Kagame a third term.

The rebel commander-turned-statesman has sidestepped questions over whether he will run for office again. But there has been a run of articles in pro-government papers in recent months quoting supporters calling for an extension.

Two decades on from the 1994 genocide, Rwanda is a poster-child for foreign investment in Africa, but political opponents and human rights groups accuse Kagame, 55, of trampling on the opposition and stifling dissent.

"We all know who's going to win, so there's no reason to vote," said Kigali resident Jean Claude Uwizeyimana.

Small, orderly queues formed outside voting booths in school classrooms but there was no sign of the long lines seen in the 2010 presidential poll, which Kagame won by a landslide.

Kagame has dismissed criticisms of his human rights record.

His Rwandan Patriotic Front has dominated politics since Hutu militias slaughtered more than 800,000 ethnic Tutsis and moderate Hutus over about 100 days from April to July in 1994, ripping the country apart along its ethnic seams.

Western leaders have in the past lavished praise on Kagame for rebuilding the country. RPF posters carrying the slogan "Unity, Democracy and Development" were plastered across the hilly capital, Kigali.

"I do not see why the RPF should not win, even with a big margin ... Building on the track record of what the RPF has done, there's no reason to believe the RPF will not win," said Kagame, moments after casting his ballot. "

Should Kagame decide to run in the next presidential vote in 2017, both chambers of parliament would have to approve the removal of term limits before a referendum on the issue.

Only three small opposition or independent parties are registered to take part in the vote - the Liberal Party, the Social Democratic Party and PS Imberakuri. Three other parties are in coalition with the Rwandan Patriotic Front.

The Democratic Green Party, which officially won recognition as a political party in August after years of what it called political obstruction, said its late registration left it unable to contest the vote.

"We were disappointed at not being able to take part," Democratic Greens leader Frank Habineza told Reuters.

At the last election, the RPF won 42 of the 53 directly elected seats.

Another 27 places are reserved for women, youths and disabled lawmakers who will be indirectly elected on Tuesday and Wednesday. Those candidates are not aligned to specific parties.

The first preliminary results are expected this evening.

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