President Paul Kagame of Rwanda was expected to win his third term easily, and he did so – with a final tally of 98.63 percent of the vote in the small east African nation he has led for 17 years.
“Today is proof that this election was truly the will of the people,” said Kagame, addressing his Rwandan Patriotic Front party supporters. “Despite the critics of our democracy, you have proven that Rwandans know what they want.”
Kagame garnered more than 6.6 million votes, compared with Frank Habineza of the Democratic Green Party of Rwanda (DGPR) and Philippe Mpayimana, an independent candidate, who together accounted for a paltry 1.2 percent of votes cast. Habineza remained optimistic, however, noting that his was the only opposition party permitted to run for the first time since the aftermath of Rwanda’s 1994 genocide.
In a victory speech on Saturday morning, Kagame noted that “where we are today is a journey that started some time back, with millions of Rwandans signing petitioning parliament calling for me to continue as your leader.”
The president was referring to a 2015 decision that allowed him to seek a third term by changing the constitution. The provision was written, however, to allow him to run for this seven-year term in 2017, and then remain eligible for two five-year terms. In theory, Kagame can remain in office until 2034.
The controversial Kagame’s win was celebrated by his many supporters among the 6.7 million voters reported by the nation’s electoral commission. But while Kagame thanked Rwandans for ensuring that “everything was in order,” a statement issued by the United States questioned if that was true.
“The United States congratulates the people of Rwanda on their active and peaceful participation in the presidential election held August 4,” the U.S. Department of State said. “However, we are disturbed by irregularities observed during voting and reiterate long-standing concerns over the integrity of the vote-tabulation process.”
The U.S. also said it was concerned by the lack of transparency in determining candidate eligibility.
Image: Paul Kagame/RPF