Rwanda readies for presidential poll

August 8, 2010 12:00 am

, KIGALI, Aug 8 – Rwanda\’s electoral authority distributed voting material Sunday ahead of a presidential poll set to deliver an emphatic victory for incumbent Paul Kagame after a campaign denounced by opponents as a charade.

In Monday\’s second presidential election since the 1994 genocide, Kagame faces three candidates linked to his all-powerful Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) who supported him when he won 95 percent of the vote in 2003.

Meanwhile, real opposition parties were barred from taking part, rights groups have charged.

Despite a tense preamble, which featured attacks on opposition figures and journalists and aroused the concerns of human rights groups, "everything went smoothly" during the campaign, Electoral Commission spokesman Pacifique Nduwimana told AFP Sunday.

There were no incidents of violence, Nduwimana said.

Kagame, 52, wrapped up his campaign with a rally in Bumbogo, near the capital Kigali, saying his government would represent the politics of all Rwandans.

"Rwanda\’s new politics are not the politics of the Hutu, the Tutsi or the Twa but the politics of all Rwandans," Kagame said, referring to the country\’s main ethnic groups.

Kagame\’s Tutsi-dominated RPR shot to power after ending the 1994 genocide, in which Hutu extremists butchered some 800,000 mostly Tutsis and moderate Hutus.

Despite criticism from rights groups, Rwanda under Kagame has become celebrated for its fight against corruption, its struggle for women\’s rights and its pro-environment policies.

The disparity between his well-funded rallies, attended by tens or hundreds of thousands of his supporters, and the modest meetings staged by his challengers leaves little doubt Kagame will sweep the board again.

The challengers have put a brave face on it, managing to look genuinely gratified by turnouts of around 200 people and saying they remain hopeful of victory.

At a Social Democratic Party (PSD) meeting in Kamonyi the ground remained littered with RPF flags from an earlier, much larger, RPF rally at the same spot.

PSD flagbearer Jean Damascene Ntawukuriryayo explained that his party, which is in government, stands for continuity rather than change.

"We see our policies as a continuation of those of the RPF," Ntawukuriryayo told journalists at the rally.

"Paul Kagame has done a lot of things for his country and the PSD has contributed to that," he went on after throwing himself wholeheartedly into a dance to the sound of one whistle, one vuvuzela and one fuzzy loudspeaker.

"We\’ve never been in favour of breaking with current policies because in this country we have suffered enough," he continued, referring to the genocide.

A senior official with the Liberal Party (PL), who like the PSD is fielding its own candidate this time around after backing Kagame in 2003, pointed out criticising the RPF would be illegal under Rwandan law.

"The law forbids talking about other political parties," said Francois Byabarumwanzi, the PL campaign manager and second vice-president.

Aimed at discouraging hate speech, the law, like many others in application in Rwanda, takes into account the 1994 genocide.

The challengers\’ meetings have a television truck, one or two police officers rather than several hundred and two or three buses instead of entire fields turned into temporary car parks.

The RPF has the catchiest tunes, the best organisation, the quality sound systems and the seemingly endless supplies of party paraphernalia.

Some five million voters have been registered for Monday\’s polls.


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