, KIGALI, Rwanda, Dec 9 – Rwanda will hold a referendum next week on a constitutional amendment to allow President Paul Kagame to run for a third consecutive term in 2017, and potentially remain in power for the next two decades, the government said late Tuesday.
“The cabinet meeting approved the presidential order determining the date and purpose of the referendum,” setting December 17 for Rwandans abroad to vote, and December 18 for those in the country, an official statement read.
The United States and European Union have warned that the move undermines democratic principles in the central African country, prompting Kagame last week to criticise “other nations” for interfering in his country’s internal affairs.
The Rwandan Senate last month passed a constitutional amendment that reduces presidential terms from seven to five years and maintains the two-term limit but makes an exception for Kagame, allowing him to run in 2017 for a third seven-year term, at the end of which the new rules come into force.
After those seven years, he could then potentially run for another two terms of five years each, which would extend his rule to 2034.
The amendment is expected to pass easily in the referendum.
Earlier this year, more than 60 percent of voters signed a petition calling for constitutional changes to be drafted that would allow Kagame to stand again.
The date was set after an cabinet meeting chaired by Kagame on Tuesday.
“The President of the Republic approved that a referendum on the 2015 Revised Constitution of the Republic of Rwanda of 04 June 2003 be called,” the statement added.
Kagame has run Rwanda since his ethnic Tutsi rebel Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF) army ended a 1994 genocide by extremists from the Hutu majority, in which an estimated 800,000 people were massacred, the vast majority of them Tutsis.
He won elections in 2003 and 2010 and under the current law is due to step aside in 2017.
Aides have insisted that any bid for a third term would be in response to the “popular demand” that he stay in power.
“Kagame has not stated whether he would seek another term should the law allow him to do so, only telling a meeting of the governing Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF) last Sunday that he would take a stand after the referendum,” the pro-government New Times newspaper reported Wednesday.