Rwanda votes in election without opposition

Rwanda held a legislative election on Monday but with hardly any opposition candidates standing, President Paul Kagame is expected to tighten his grip on the country he has ruled since the 1994 genocide.

Polling stations opened at 4am GMT for the second general elections since the genocide.

Voters queued in front of the Mbura Buturo Primary School in Kigali’s Kigarama district. According to the Rwandan custom, elderly people as well as women with infants were given priority.

Kagame’s Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) will only be challenged by one independent candidate and the Social Democratic Party and the Liberal Party in the polls which end on Thursday.

But neither of these two movements are part of the opposition as both backed Kagame in the 2003 presidential poll, which saw him re-elected with 95% of the vote.

The opposition in the small Central African country is made up of about a dozen parties but has been in exile since the end of the genocide and did not field candidates.

Their absence leaves the result of this week’s vote a foregone conclusion with the RPF, dominated by the country’s Tutsi minority, poised to garner a comfortable majority.

“I can tell you that I have no doubt the RPF will comfortably win the coming elections,” Kagame said in July.

In 2003, for the first parliamentary elections held in Rwanda since the genocide in which 800 000 people were massacred, the RPF secured 74% of the vote.

Kagame’s party enjoys wide support but there is widespread scepticism towards the ruling elite.

“As voters, today is our day, but just wait until they are ensconced in their parliamentary seats because they will soon forget about us,” said Gerard, a young taxi driver in Kigali.

The United Democratic Forces, a coalition of Brussels-based opposition movements, lambasted the poll.

“The UDF are of the view that so long as one political party, the RPF, monopolises all the state machinery, decides which party or individual can contest elections, seals off all the country during the electoral process, elections will amount to a smoke screen,” it said in a statement last month.

The Rwandan legislative ballot consists of several separate stages.

It kicked off on Monday with the direct election of 53 lawmakers.

The 27 remaining Parliament seats will be allocated through indirect elections on September 16 to 18, with 24 seats reserved for women, two for youth representatives and one for a representative of the disabled.

This hybrid electoral system makes Rwanda one of the few countries in the world with a gender equal Parliament. In the outgoing house, 48% of the members are women.

The proportion of women in politics is also a result of the imbalance in the country’s population with many men having been killed in the genocide.
According to the electoral commission, women account for 55% of the 4,7-million registered voters.

More than 60 observers from a European Union mission headed by a British member of the European Parliament were deployed across the country.

Provisional results are expected on September 22 and final results three days later, the commission said. - AFP

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