Rwanda sets presidential polls date

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Our reporter

At least more than 5.7 million voters are expected to cast their ballots next year to either elect the next leader or retain President Paul Kagame in office.

According to cabinet resolution that was passed yesterday Friday December 9, 2016, the next election dates have been set on August 4, 2017, while polling date for Rwandans living in the diaspora has been fixed for 3/8/2017.

The Rwandan president, Paul Kagame, is to seek a third term in 2017, confirming a decision widely expected after the approval of constitutional changes.

In a televised address on January 1, 2016 Kagame said:  “You requested me to lead the country again after 2017. Given the importance and consideration you attach to this, I can only accept. But I don’t think that what we need is an eternal leader.”

Kagame has been president since 2000, but he has effectively been in control since his forces marched into the Rwandan capital, Kigali, to end the 1994 genocide.

He was originally limited to two terms, but Rwanda has approved changes to the constitution that would effectively allow Kagame to stay in power until 2034. He can run for another seven-year term in 2017, followed by two five-year terms.

Kagame insisted for months that he had yet to make up his mind about whether to run in the election in 2017.

A referendum on the change, which drew the backing of 98% of those who voted, prompted criticism from western governments, which worry about the growing list of African leaders seeking to extend their tenure.

In April this year neighboring Burundi was plunged into chaos when the president, Pierre Nkurunziza, announced he would seek a third term.

This had led to months of street protests and violence in which more than 4000 Burundians died. Nkurunziza later won in a disputed vote.

Rights groups acknowledge that Kagame has broad support for rebuilding Rwanda, but accuse the authorities of stifling the media and opposition voices, charges that the government denies.

The US, which has long praised Kagame for transforming the country since the genocide, said the president could best serve his nation by stepping down in 2017.

The US has warned Kagame that he faces instability and uncertainty if he presses ahead with plans to change the constitution of Rwanda to allow him to stay on for a third term.

John Kirby, spokesman for the State Department, called on Mr Kagame to honour his previous commitment to respect term limits.

“We do not support those in positions of power changing constitutions solely for their political self-interest,” he said.

Now he is the latest African leader to be accused of “stayism”.

Barack Obama seized on the issue during his African visit in July saying “When a leader tries to change the rules in the middle of the game just to stay in office, it risks instability and strife, as we’ve seen in Burundi,” he said in Ethiopia.

“And this is often just a first step down a perilous path.”

The European Union also criticized the speed at which the referendum vote was held, saying it did not give enough time for the public to consider the arguments. The vote took place about a month after the Rwandan parliament gave its final approval to the changes.

The Democratic Green party, the main opposition group in Rwanda – which is tiny and has no seats in parliament – had its attempt to block the constitutional amendments rejected in the courts.





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