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Rwandans vote in presidential poll with Kagame expected to win

Rwandans turned out in large numbers to vote in their country’s second presidential poll since the 1994 genocide with incumbent Paul Kagame widely expected to win following the virtual absence of a political opposition.


Voters queued much before sunrise Monday to cast their ballots in the country’s second presidential election since the 1994 genocide with incumbent Paul Kagame widely expected to be swept to win a second seven-year term, after already serving for 10 years.

Critics have accused Kagame of suppressing opposition and undermining democracy following a crackdown on the more credible opposition leaders, who either faced arrest or failed to secure official registration and were unable to run..

Kagame is facing three candidates who all supported him seven years ago.

"Rwanda's new politics are not the politics of the Hutu, the Tutsi or the Twa but the politics of all Rwandans," Kagame told a feverish crowd of supporters on the last day of campaigning, referring to the country's main ethnic groups. "The justice I have put in place is for all Rwandans."

But despite the widespread support that Kagame enjoys at home, there is growing disquiet among international observers and some Rwandans about the democratic process in this central African nation.

War hero to politician

Kagame was just 36 years old in 1994 when his Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) rebel army routed the forces behind the genocide that killed an estimated 800,000 people. He then went on to serve in the government during Rwanda’s transition period after the war.

In 2003, in the fist presidential election after the genocide, 95 percent of Rwandans gave Kagame their support. The international community has since praised Kagame for the solid economic growth that the country has seen and his bold vision to turn Rwanda into an IT hub and middle-income nation in the next ten years.

The president is also credited with providing stability and a return of civil society following the genocide. Tourism is now the country’s largest source of foreign exchange, generating a reported $175 million last year.

For Professor Bernard Rutikanga, who teaches history at the National University of Rwanda in the southern city of Butare, Kagame enjoys mass appeal because he has delivered on his promises to bring stability and fight graft.

"He walks the walk. Even people in the government are going to jail for corruption. People in Rwanda recognise that [Kagame] is doing what he said he would do," says Rutikanga.

Kagame’s government has nonetheless been accused by human rights groups of authoritarianism and the silencing of opposition voices.

Kagame is running against three smaller parties, but all have links to the RPF. Candidates Jean Damascene Ntawukuriryayo, Prosper Higiro and Alvera Mukabaramba are all campaigning vigorously, but their positions on many key issues are remarkably similar to Kagame’s.

“Electoral masquerade”

Rwanda's Electoral Commission said on Sunday that the two-and-a-half-week electoral campaign was free of any violent or disorderly incidents.

The Commission has accredited 1,394 observers, 214 of them being international. Among the bodies who have sent monitors are the African Union, the Commonwealth, which Rwanda joined recently, and various Western and African embassies.

The European Union has sent four experts, but they will only draw up a report for internal EU use.
Last week exiled Rwandan rebels issued a statement calling the elections a fraud, organised by the RPF with the help of international backers.

The Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) called on “all Rwandan political parties, all human rights groups and the citizens to rise and reject this electoral masquerade robbing them of their basic rights.”

It also accused the Rwandan government of being behind the killings of independent journalists, as well as the detention of opponents and lawyers and attempting to eliminate exiles.

Some elements of the Democratic Republic of Congo-based FDLR are being sought by Kigali on charges of taking part in the genocide.


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