The ruling party of Rwanda's President Paul Kagame was headed for a predicted landslide win in parliamentary elections, officials said on Tuesday, cementing a nearly two-decade-old grip over the central African nation.
The National Election Commission (NEC) said the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), which has run the country since ending the genocide nearly 20 years ago, had won 76% of the vote with three-quarters of the ballots from Monday's polls counted.
The RPF faced no serious opposition, with only a handful of small parties or independent candidates hoping to scrape a few seats in Parliament, and prominent opposition figures sidelined.
With Rwanda's economy set as one of the continent's fastest growing, the government has dismissed critics of its democratic credentials and has been keen to show off the elections as a display of national unity.
"We can safely say that there will be no major change in the results," the NEC's president, Kalisa Mbanda, said.
He said the Social Democrats and Liberals – on paper independent but in practice broadly pro-RPF – were scoring 13% and 9.4% respectively.
The PS-Imberakuri party – whose former leader Bernard Ntaganda was jailed in 2010 for crimes against state security and "sectarianism" – had failed to muster even 1%.
Full results from Monday's voting were expected later on Tuesday.
Conviction for conspiracy
Out of the race was Rwanda's Green Party, which was given official recognition last month but chose not to field candidates as it said it did not have time to prepare.
Another opposition group, the Unified Democratic Forces, is not recognised. It was set up in exile and is led by Victoire Ingabire, who is currently appealing an April conviction for conspiracy and minimising the extent of the 1994 genocide. The group has said the elections have "no legitimacy".
Attention is now likely to shift to Kagame himself, who under the Constitution can only serve two terms as president.
Kagame is already into his second mandate and the next presidential elections are due in 2017, although there is already speculation over whether he may try to prolong his stay in office beyond that date.
The small nation was left in ruins by the genocide of 1994, in which close to a million people, mostly from the ethnic Tutsi minority, were butchered by Hutu extremists.
It was Kagame's RPF, at the time a rebel army, which halted the killing, and the group has dominated the country ever since.
Rwanda has been transformed in the past two decades, with powerful economic growth, a booming private sector, the strangling of corruption and low crime rates credited to Kagame's strong rule. The World Bank now ranks the country as among the best places in Africa to do business.
But Rwandan Green Party leader Frank Habineza criticised the polls as a foregone conclusion.
"The ruling party … has no challengers, there is no opposition," he said.
Out of the 80 seats up for grabs, 53 are directly elected and 27 are reserved for women, the youth and handicapped – who are indirectly elected by local and national councils on Tuesday and Wednesday.
This configuration has ensured that Rwanda has the only Parliament where women are in a majority – 56.3% after the last elections.
In the last Parliament, the RPF held 42 out of the 53 directly elected seats while deputies holding the indirectly elected seats, although in principle non-partisan, have been supportive of the majority. – AFP