, RWANDA, Jul 20 – Rwandan lawmakers began a national tour Monday consulting people on possible constitutional changes to allow strongman Paul Kagame a third term in power, parliament speaker Donatilla Mukabalisa said.
Last week both houses in parliament voted in support of a constitutional change, backing a petition signed by millions of citizens.
“All lawmakers will go to consult with the population… to ask them their opinion about the amendment – what they expect from this reform,” Mukabalisa told AFP.
Over 3.7 million people — well over half of the voters — signed a petition calling for a change to Article 101 of the constitution, which limits the president to two terms, according to Rwandan media.
The consultations, which end on August 11, will guide lawmakers as they draft proposed changes.
Any change to the constitution would require a vote in support by at least three-quarters of both parliamentary houses, followed by a national referendum.
Kagame, 57, has been at the helm of Rwandan politics since 1994, when an offensive by his Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) rebels put an end to a genocide by Hutu extremists that left an estimated 800,000 people dead, most of whom were Tutsis.
As minister of defence and then vice president, Kagame was widely seen as the power behind the throne even before he took the presidency only in 2003, winning 95 percent of the vote. He was re-elected in 2010 with a similarly resounding mandate. The next elections are due in 2017.
From the trauma of genocide, he has been painted as a guarantor of stability and economic development, earning praise from donors — and his supporters say many in Rwanda view the prospect of his departure as a step into the unknown.
Critics say however that he has silenced the opposition and the media.
Kagame says the decision is for the “Rwandan people”.
The move comes amid a wider controversy in Africa over efforts by leaders to change constitutions in order to stay in office.
Neighbouring Burundi has been in turmoil since April when President Pierre Nkurunziza announced his bid to stand for a third term in polls, a move branded by opponents as unconstitutional and a violation of a peace deal that paved the way to end civil war in 2006.