World News

Rwanda's Kagame takes big early lead in presidential election

Posted August 4

Rwandans headed to the polls Friday for the country's presidential election, with longtime leader Paul Kagame widely expected to win a third term in office.

Close to 7 million Rwandans were registered to vote, according to the government.

Preliminary results should be released later Friday, the government said via Twitter. However, official results won't be announced until August 12, after the National Electoral Commission considers petitions and verifies numbers.

More than 44,000 Rwandans living outside the East African nation cast their votes on Thursday, the government said.

Kagame's only opponents in the race for the presidency are independent Philippe Mpayimana, a former journalist who has spent much of his life in exile in Europe, and Frank Habineza, of the Democratic Green Party.

Three more prospective candidates were disqualified from running. Among them was the only woman to put herself forward, women's rights activist and Kagame critic Diane Shima Rwigara.

Within days of announcing her plans to stand against Kagame, nude photos of her -- which she says were photoshopped -- began to circulate on the internet. The Rwandan Electoral Commission later ruled that Rwigara had not collected enough signatures to support her candidacy. She disputed that ruling.

Kagame, who has been president for 17 years and turns 60 this year, is eligible to stand again thanks to changes to the country's constitution -- overwhelmingly approved in a 2015 referendum -- which allow him to seek up to a fifth term in office, and potentially remain in post until 2034.

He rose to power after leading the armed wing of the Rwandan Patriotic Front into Kigali to halt the 1994 genocide, in which almost a million Tutsis were murdered by rival Hutus, and up to two million people fled the country.

Kagame, a Tutsi, who became president in 2000 after stints in other government posts, pursued those responsible for the genocide across the border into the Democratic Republic of the Congo (then known as Zaire), eliminating many of them.

He is credited by supporters with modernizing a nation once at war with itself and helping it develop a flourishing economy. But allegations of repression, violence and politically-motivated murder have created a climate of fear in the country, according to rights group Amnesty International.

Fellow rights group Human Rights Watch highlighted restrictions on freedom of speech and said the Rwandan government had limited the ability of opposition parties and civil society groups to operate freely in the run up to the vote.

Pro-government views dominate the country's media and journalists who question the official narrative are harassed or detained, it added.

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