Rwanda began counting votes yesterday after polls closed in a referendum to amend the constitution allowing President Paul Kagame to rule until 2034, with few expecting the changes to be rejected. The proposed amendments have been denounced by Washington and Brussels as undermining democracy in the central African country. But Kagame (58) who could be in power potentially for another 17 years, told reporters after casting his vote earlier yesterday that “what is happening is the people’s choice”.
“I did not apply for this. You go and ask Rwandans why they want me,” said Kagame, who has run the country since 1994. Long queues formed during polling, some arriving before centres opened soon after dawn, with some 6,4 million registered to vote. Polls closed at 3pm with counting beginning almost immediately, an AFP reporter said.
We want our president to continue to lead us. Look how the country is safe,” Emmanuel Ntivamunda said after casting his ballot, among those who thanked the president for the country’s economic growth, which is over six percent a year according to the World Bank.
“Paul Kagame has brought peace,” said Eridigaride Niwemukobwa (67) holding up her voter card proudly, while admitting she did not know for how long Kagame could run Rwanda if the constitutional changes pass.
Kagame declined to say whether he plans to run again if the changes to the constitution are passed. “We will see when the time comes,” he said. Some voters said they were not clear about the exact constitutional changes they were voting on, describing the ballot as a simple choice about whether to endorse Kagame or not.
“What interests me is that the president is re-elected,” said Saidi Alfred, one of hundreds who voted in a school in Kigali. The amendment would allow Kagame to run for a third seven-year term in 2017, at the end of which the new rules take effect and he will be eligible to run for a further two five-year terms.