Saturday 24 March 2018

Rwandans vote in election that president calls 'a formality'

Rwandans vote in election that president calls 'a formality'
(The Associated Press 08/04/17)

KIGALI, Rwanda (AP) -- Rwandans voted in an election Friday that the country's longtime president was widely expected to win, while the foreign minister mocked the head of Human Rights Watch and asked if he was "off your medication again."

President Paul Kagame, who won the 2010 election with 93 percent of the vote, told a rally in July that "the day of the presidential elections will just be a formality."

Polls closed in the afternoon and provisional results were expected later in the day, according to Charles Munyaneza, executive secretary of the Rwanda Electoral Commission. More than 80 percent of Rwanda's 6.9 million registered voters cast their ballots, he said.

Kagame was running against Frank Habineza of the Democratic Green Party of Rwanda - the only permitted opposition party - and independent candidate Philippe Mpayimana. Three potential candidates were disqualified for allegedly failing to fulfil requirements including collecting enough signatures.

Candidates had been barred from putting campaign posters in most public places, including schools and hospitals. The electoral commission vetted candidates' campaign messages, warning that their social media accounts could be blocked otherwise.

The 59-year-old Kagame has led the nation of 12 million people since his rebels ended the 1994 genocide that left more than 800,000 people dead. While he remains popular for presiding over economic growth, critics accuse him of using the powers of the state to remove perceived opponents.

Rwandan authorities, including Kagame, deny critics' claims that the government targets dissidents for assassination or disappearances.

On Friday, Foreign Minister Louise Mushikiwabo on Twitter mocked a post by Human Rights Watch Executive Director Kenneth Roth, who called the government a "murderous dictatorship."

"Ken, Ken, Ken... You've come off your medication again?" she tweeted, suggesting that he could "get help" at a psychiatric hospital in her country.

A constitutional amendment after a referendum in 2015 allows Kagame to stay in power until 2034 if he pursues it.

Polling stations in some parts of the capital, Kigali, had long lines on Friday. Kagame made no public remarks after voting there.

"Even the critics will tell you Kagame is an extraordinary leader who walks the talk," Kigali resident Charles Karemera said after voting.

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