Kagame expected to cruise to fourth term in Rwanda election


  • World
  • Thursday, 11 Jul 2024

FILE PHOTO: Rwanda's President Paul Kagame of the ruling Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF) party sits to submit his candidacy for an a July 15 election at Rwanda's National Election Commission in Kiyovu, Kigali, Rwanda May 17, 2024. REUTERS/Jean Bizimana/File Photo

KIGALI (Reuters) - Rwandan President Paul Kagame is expected to cruise to a fourth term in office in an election on Monday against two opposition candidates who were cleared to run against him but have only modest expectations.

Kagame, 66, helped lead the rebel movement that ended the 1994 genocide in Rwanda and has served as president since 2000. He faces only two rivals because six other potential candidates were not cleared to run by the state-run electoral commission.

Kagame won nearly 99% of the vote in the last election in 2017, which followed a constitutional change removing term limits that would have barred him from standing again.

His reelection could signal further stability but also continued global scrutiny, given accusations of rights abuses and continued tensions with neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo.

Kagame has won praise during his tenure for rebuilding the country of 14 million after the genocide, in which more than a million people were killed. Rwanda has emerged as a regional financial hub.

But his government has been accused by Western nations and rights activists of muzzling the media, assassinating opponents, and backing rebel groups in neighbouring Congo.

International scrutiny was intensified by the migration deal Rwanda struck in 2022 to receive thousands of asylum seekers from Britain. Newly elected British Prime Minister Keir Starmer confirmed on Saturday he would scrap the agreement.

Rwanda's government has denied all the accusations against it, and while campaigning, Kagame promised continued development and stability.

"With you, there is nothing our country will not achieve, because today you have leaders who are not foolish and you are not foolish," he told young supporters at a rally last week in Eastern Province.

TWO CHALLENGERS

Eight candidates had applied to run against Kagame, but only two were retained in the final list validated by the electoral commission. The others, including Kagame's most vocal critics, were invalidated for various reasons that included prior criminal convictions.

The two approved candidates, Frank Habineza and Philippe Mpayimana, ran against Kagame in 2017.

In an interview with Reuters, Habineza, the leader of the Democratic Green Party, said he expected to exceed his total of 0.48% of the vote from 2017.

"People are only considering 2017 and say that I got 0.4%, but they forget that our party stood for parliament and got more than 5%," he said.

Mpayimana, who works for the Ministry of National Unity and Civic Engagement, urged voters at a campaign event to consider his candidacy.

"It's true you cannot change the winning team, but we also have to give opportunities to the junior teams to see if they can deliver on their pledges. That is what democracy means," he said.

Over 9 million voters are registered for the polls in which they will also elect members of the 80-seat lower house of parliament. Provisional results are expected by July 20.

(Reporting by Aaron Ross, Editing by Bate Felix and Timothy Heritage)

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