KIGALI September 16- Rwandans were voting Monday in parliamentary polls seen as a shoo in for President Paul Kagame’s Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), the party that has held sway over the central African state since ending the genocide 20 years ago.
Some six million people are eligible to cast their ballots, with polling stations having opened at 7:00 am (0500 GMT), with turnout expected to be robust despite a low-key campaign and the absence of any serious opposition to the RPF.
“I’m 20, it’s the first time I can vote so it’s important,” said Sandrine, a mobile phone seller who was among the first to vote at a polling station in the capital Kigali.
Voting appeared calm on Monday, with orderly queues and cars with loudspeakers driving around at dawn and reminding residents not to forget their ID cards.
The only incident to upset the pre vote atmosphere was the explosion of two grenades over the weekend in a Kigali market, a city reputed to be among Africa’s safest.
There was no claim of responsibility, but the Rwandan government blamed dissidents linked to the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), a rebel group which operates across the border in Democratic Republic of Congo.
The FDLR includes remnants of Hutu extremist militia who carried out the 1994 genocide in Rwanda but who were pushed out by Kagame’s RPF, at the time a rebel army.
For the parliamentary polls, the RPF is leading a coalition that includes four smaller parties.
The tiny opposition or independent parties including the Liberals, Social Democrats and the PS Imberakuri will be trying to scrape a handful of the seats by winning at least five percent of the popular vote, but are seen as having little chance in denting the dominance of the RPF.
Out of the 80 seats in parliament, 53 are directly elected and 24 are reserved for women, the youth and handicapped who are indirectly appointed by local and national councils on Tuesday and Wednesday.
This configuration has ensured that Rwanda has the only parliament in the world where women are in a majority 56.3 percent after the last elections.
Kagame’s RPF currently holds 42 out of the 53 directly elected seats, while deputies holding the indirectly elected seats, although in principle non partisan, have been supportive of the majority.
With Rwanda’s economy one of the continent’s fastest growing, the government is keen to show off the elections as a badge of national unity and democratic health.
The small nation was left in ruins by the brutal genocide of 1994, in which close to a million people, mostly from the ethnic Tutsi minority, were butchered by Hutu extremists before RPF rebels managed to take control of the country.
Rwanda has undergone a dramatic transformation in the past two decades, with robust economic growth and the strangling of corruption credited to the strong rule of Kagame.
Transparency International ranks Rwanda as the least corrupt country in Africa, while the World Bank’s ease of doing business index for 2013 ranked Rwanda 52nd out of 185 countries, and third best in sub Saharan Africa after Mauritius and South Africa.
But critics say the economic growth and security have come at the expense of freedom of expression.
The Liberals and Social Democrats both backed the overwhelming election of Kagame in 2003, and while they put forward candidates for the next polls five years later, that did not stop Kagame from an overwhelming win again with 93 percent of votes.
Meanwhile PS Imberakuri, whose former leader was jailed in 2010 for crimes against state security and “sectarianism”, is now believed to have been effectively taken over by supporters of the ruling party.
Rwanda’s Green Party won official recognition last month but chose not to field candidates as it said it did not have time to prepare.