, KIGALI, Rwanda, Jul 14 – Rwandan lawmakers voted Tuesday in support of a constitutional change to allow strongman Paul Kagame a third term in power as president, backing a petition signed by millions of citizens.
The crowded Parliament, packed with members of the public who had come to watch, cheered and chanted Kagame’s name after all lawmakers present in both the lower and upper houses voted in the first step of the process for constitutional change.
“I want to thank all Members of Parliament for showing support to the people’s wishes,” Parliament Speaker Donatilla Mukabalisa said.
Any change must be also passed by a national referendum.
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.
“There was a request that we engage the people and consult them about the amendment of 101, and other articles,” Mukabalisa added. “I promise you we are going to fast track the process as requested.”
Parliament was crammed to capacity Tuesday with both lawmakers and the public, with the two chambers holding separate, parallel debates. READ: Rwanda lawmakers to debate third term for Kagame.
Nkusi Juvenal, a Member of Parliament from the Social Democratic Party (PSD), said that “3.7 million Rwandans from different constituencies and walks of life have spoken, we are their representatives here, we have no option but to… listen to their pleas.”
At one point, lawmakers and the public chanted slogans of support for Kagame.
“Paul Kagame, oyee! (oh yes),” they shouted.
The public were invited to watch the debate.
“I wanted to participate, so that is why I am here – I am very proud,” Alpha Mundendke said, a 23-year old student in parliament for the first time.