Kagame assured of ‘Yes’ vote Paul Kagame
Paul Kagame

Paul Kagame

Kigali. – There’s little doubt about the outcome of Rwanda’s referendum tomorrow to amend the constitution allowing President Paul Kagame to rule until 2034 – lawmakers say the vote is by popular demand and crowds are clamouring their support. “Paul Kagame, Oyee!,” an MC shouted to a crowd in a suburb of the capital Kigali this week, cheering the president’s name.

“Oyee, Oyee, Oyee!” the crowd chorused back. The United States and European Union have slammed the proposed consitutional changes, warning they undermine democracy in the central African country.

But Kagame responded that “other nations” should not interfere with the country’s internal affairs, or his people’s wishes. “People asked us to revise the constitution,” Senator Tito Rutaremara, a heavyweight in the ruling RPF party, told a rally in Kigali.

Kagame has run Rwanda since his ethnic Tutsi rebel army, the Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF), ended a 1994 genocide by extremists from the Hutu majority, in which an estimated 800 000 people were massacred, the vast majority of them Tutsis.

The constitutional amendment – passed by parliament last month and due to be put to tomorrow’s referendum – reduces presidential terms to five years and maintains a two-term limit, but makes an exception for Kagame.

It would allow him to run for a third seven-year term in 2017, at the end of which the new rules come into force and he will be eligible to run for a further two five-year terms.

Lawmakers in Rwanda insist the constitutional changes are the result of a popular movement.

“Here we are accounting to the people”, said Rutaremara, who is among a group of politicians holding rallies to explain to the people what the changes mean. Earlier this year, some 3,7 million people – roughly two-thirds of voters – signed a petition calling for constitutional changes to allow Kagame to stand again. At the rally in Kigali, some of the 300 supporters gathered in a basketball court took turns to publicly extol Kagame’s virtues and achievements.

“Paul Kagame has done so much for us,” said Jean-Baptiste, a welder, thanking the president for the country’s economic growth, which is over 6 percent a year according to the World Bank.

“Before, people were divided, all this changed,” he said, referring to the 1994 genocide. “He has performed miracles,” said truck driver Jean Bosco Masumboko. Rallies have also been held outside the capital.

“Lawmakers came . . . they asked us to vote ‘yes’,” said Therese Nyirahabimana, a farmer in Musha, 30km) east of Kigali. “This is normal because the president has done a lot: he has brought us peace, and thanks to him some in the village have cows.”

But beyond the organised rallies, there is little to show Rwandans will participate in such a fundamental vote tomorrow. The Green Party, the country’s tiny and only opposition, cancelled its campaign against the constitutional change due to the “short notice given”.

Rutaremara dismissed this claim, saying “it’s because they know they will lose”.

Some 6,4 million people are registered to vote, with Rwandans living abroad casting ballots today, ahead of the main vote. Provisional results will be ready within two days, and final results within five days, according to the National Elections Commis- sion.

Those who oppose say they will boycott the polls rather than vote “no”. “I will not vote,” said one Kigali resident who, like most who oppose the constitutional changes, asked not to be named. – AFP.

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