Ruling RPF party virtually unopposed in Rwandan elections

President Paul Kagame's Rwandan Patriotic Front looks set to sweep the country's opening elections, tightening its grip on the country it has ruled since the 1994 genocide. Provisional results are expected on September 22.


Rwanda went to the polls Monday with President Paul Kagame's party poised to tighten its grip on the country it has ruled since the 1994 genocide.

Polling stations opened at 6:00 a.m. (0400 GMT) for the second general elections since the genocide.

Kagame's Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) will only be challenged by one independent candidate and the Social Democratic Party and the Liberal Party in the polls which end on Thursday.

But neither of these two movements can be seen to form part of the opposition as both had backed Kagame in the 2003 presidential poll, which saw him re-elected with 95 percent of the vote.

The small central African country's political opposition includes around a dozen parties but has been in exile since the end of the genocide and did not field candidates.

Their absence leaves the result of this week's vote a foregone conclusion with the RPF, dominated by the country's Tutsi minority, poised to garner a comfortable majority.

Kagame himself admitted that the result was never in doubt.

"I can tell you that I have no doubt the RPF will comfortably win the coming elections," he told reporters in Kigali on July 31.

In 2003, for the first parliamentary elections held in Rwanda since the 1994 genocide -- in which 800,000 people were massacred -- the RPF secured 74 percent of the vote.

The United Democratic Forces, a coalition of Brussels-based opposition movements, lambasted the poll as a masquerade in a statement issued last month.

"The UDF are of the view that so long as one political party, the RPF, monopolises all the state machinery, decides which party or individual can contest elections, seals off all the country during the electoral process, elections will amount to a smoke screen," it said.

The Rwandan legislative ballot consists of several separate stages.

It kicked off on Monday with the direct election of 53 lawmakers.

The 27 remaining parliament seats will be allocated through indirect elections taking place September 16-18, with 24 seats reserved for women, two for youth representatives and one for a representative of the disabled.

This hybrid electoral system makes Rwanda one of the countries in the world with a gender equal parliament. In the outgoing house, 48 percent of the members are women.

The proportion of women in politics is also a result of the imbalance in the country's population, so many men having been killed in the genocide and others having fled.

According to the electoral commission, women account for 55 percent of the 4.7 million registered voters.

More than 60 observers from a European Union mission headed by a British member of the European parliament were deployed across the country.

Provisional results are expected on September 22 and final results three days later, the commission said.

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