Rwandan president wins landslide

 

Rwandan president Paul Kagame was set for a second seven-year term after provisional results showed he had won 93 per cent of the vote in an election marred by the repression of dissent.

Rwandans had been expected to vote overwhelmingly for Mr Kagame in yesterday's poll, partly because of the economic growth and stability he has delivered during his decade in power but also because of a crackdown on rivals and critics.

Preliminary results from the National Electoral Commission, broadcast on a large screen at an overnight victory celebration in a Kigali stadium, showed that in 11 out of 30 districts Mr Kagame had garnered 1,610,422 out of 1,734,671 votes cast.

"It's really a coronation of Mr Kagame. I don't think we'd call it a genuine election," said Muzong Kodi, an Africa analyst at the Chatham House think-tank.

"It's not the manner in which the polling has been organised. The election results are decided months in advance of the polling by the way the opposition was treated, by the way dissent was clamped down on," he said.

Supporters of Mr Kagame, who has been in control since his rebel army swept to power and ended the genocide of 800,000 ethnic Tutsis and moderate Hutus in 1994, hailed their hero as fireworks crowned the victory celebration at the stadium.

"We are here to celebrate because I think that Paul Kagame won the elections and he is a hero so I want to support him all the way," Alice Kamanzi said.

Mr Kagame danced with his family and thanked supporters gathered at the Amahoro Stadium, where thousands of ethnic Tutsis sought refuge during the genocide.

Mr Kagame has been president of Rwanda since 2000 and won the last election in 2003 - the first since the 1994 genocide - with 95 per cent of the vote.

Despite being poor in resources, Rwanda is a rising star in Africa for donors and investors and Mr Kagame has been feted as a visionary leader and African icon.

While most of Rwanda's neighbours and donors are expected to be satisfied with a Mr Kagame victory, some analysts said the most dominant figure in post-genocide Rwanda would likely have to repair his tainted image.

"Initial findings show there wasn't much pressure to vote on polling day, but critics will point to events over the last few months. The result was to be expected," said one Western diplomat who declined to be named.

Registration troubles prevented three outspoken parties from fielding candidates. Two party chiefs were arrested on charges including stirring ethnic hatred and genocide ideology. Opponents say they have been threatened and intimidated.

Two newspapers were suspended in April, a critical journalist was shot in the head in June and a senior member of the Democratic Green Party was found nearly beheaded in July.

Voting was peaceful, with some stations registering 100 per cent turnout well before polls were due to close, National Electoral Commission Chairman Chrisilogue Karangwa said.

In one incident, however, voters were ushered into polling stations hours before voting opened and given instructions. "The first picture on the ballot paper was Kagame. We were told to take their thumbs and show them where to vote. I know personally because I oversaw 83 people," said one man, identifying himself as a village chief and ruling party member.

A second man in the same village in Rwanda's Eastern province said he had ordered sleeping residents to vote in the early hours yesterday morning with a megaphone: "Wake up, go to vote early, the one you have to vote for, you know him."

Reuters