EU greets Rwanda’s ‘democratic elections’

President of Rwanda Paul Kagame leaves after casting his ballot during the Presidential and general elections at a polling station in Kigali, Rwanda, 04 August 2017. [REPA/AHMED JALLANZO]

Incumbent leader Paul Kagame swept to a landslide victory in Rwanda’s presidential election, securing a third term in office and extending his 17 years in power, final results showed on Saturday (5 August).

The EU, which has closely followed the presidential elections in Rwanda, said the “Rwandan people have engaged in the democratic process peacefully, with polling held in an organised and secure environment, and a diverse set of issues having been raised across a wide range of media in the campaign.”

“This marks a step to strengthen the electoral process,” the statement reads.

International praise

Kagame has won international praise for presiding over a peaceful and rapid economic recovery in Rwanda since the 1994 genocide, when an estimated 800,000 people, Tutsis and moderate Hutus, were killed.

But he has also faced mounting criticism for what human rights groups say are widespread abuses, a muzzling of independent media, and suppression of political opposition.

The 59-year-old former guerrilla leader had secured 98.63% of Friday’s vote, according to a final tally released by the National Electoral Commission on Saturday .

The board said turnout topped 96.42% in the country of 12 million people, in an election that fielded only a single opposition candidate, Frank Habineza, and an independent.

Addressing supporters early on Saturday, Kagame said he would work to sustain economic growth.

“This is another seven years to take care of issues that affect Rwandans and ensure that we become real Rwandans who are (economically) developing,” he said in a speech broadcast live on television.

“What I saw during campaigns is that the decision to continue to lead you drew criticism mainly by foreigners but this proves that the referendum was for real purpose.”

Under his rule, some dissidents were killed after fleeing abroad, in cases that remain unsolved. The government denies any involvement.

Kagame, a commander who led Tutsi rebel forces into Rwanda to end the 1994 genocide, banned the use of tribal terms after becoming president.

He won the last election in 2010 with 93% of the vote and had said during this campaign for a further seven-year term that he again expected an outright victory.

Habineza, who won 0.47%, had promised to set up a tribunal to retry dissidents whose convictions by Rwandan courts have been criticised as politically motivated.

After the vote, he said some of his party’s observers were obstructed in carrying out their work. Habineza’s accusations, however, did not amount to foul play.

“We had sent over 500 observers and some were denied to enter. When vote counting started, some of our observers were left behind closed doors,” he told a news conference, before congratulating Kagame for his win.

Charles Munyaneza, the electoral board’s executive secretary, told reporters the body did not receive any complaints.

Another would-be opponent, Diane Rwigara, was disqualified by the election board despite her insistence that she met all the requirements to run.

Some voters celebrated the election result into the early hours of Saturday, said John Habimana, owner of the Roasty Bar in the capital Kigali.

“Last night was fantastic. People kept coming in until my bar had more than 200 people. I usually get 100 on normal days. They were all celebrating and I left at 2 am but they were still dancing and more were coming,” he said.

The EU expects further efforts to increase the inclusiveness and transparency of the electoral process, in particular as regards the registration of the candidates, the tabulation of results and other prerequisites for achieving a level playing field.
In this regard, it supports recommendations made by the African Union electoral observation mission to avoid future risks of counting irregularities, and to allow disqualified candidates to appeal.
The EU said it remains ready to support Rwanda to meet that objective.