Pre­lim­i­nary tally fa­vors Rwanda leader

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - INTERNATIONAL - In­for­ma­tion for this ar­ti­cle was con­trib­uted by Ig­natius Ssuuna of The As­so­ci­ated Press and by Saul Butera of Bloomberg News.

KI­GALI, Rwanda — Rwanda’s long­time pres­i­dent had 99 per­cent sup­port with nearly half the bal­lots counted in Fri­day’s pres­i­den­tial elec­tion, ac­cord­ing to pre­lim­i­nary re­sults re­leased by the elec­toral com­mis­sion.

Pres­i­dent Paul Kagame, the 59-year-old who has led Rwanda since his rebels ended the 1994 geno­cide that left more than 800,000 peo­ple dead, said at a cam­paign rally in July that “the day of the pres­i­den­tial elec­tions will just be a for­mal­ity.”

Pro­vi­sional re­sults will be an­nounced this af­ter­noon, the com­mis­sion said. Vote count­ing was on­go­ing as of late Fri­day in Rwanda’s cap­i­tal of Ki­gali.

Kagame, who won the 2010 elec­tion with 93 per­cent of the vote, was run­ning against Frank Habineza of the Demo­cratic Green Party of Rwanda — the only per­mit­ted op­po­si­tion party — and in­de­pen­dent can­di­date Philippe Mpay­i­mana. Three po­ten­tial can­di­dates were dis­qual­i­fied for al­legedly fail­ing to ful­fill re­quire­ments such as col­lect­ing enough sig­na­tures to run.

Can­di­dates had been barred from putting cam­paign posters in most pub­lic places, in­clud­ing schools and hos­pi­tals. The elec­toral com­mis­sion vet­ted can­di­dates’ cam­paign mes­sages, warn­ing that their so­cial me­dia ac­counts could be blocked oth­er­wise.

More than 80 per­cent of Rwanda’s 6.9 mil­lion reg­is­tered vot­ers cast their bal­lots, said Charles Mun­yaneza, ex­ec­u­tive sec­re­tary of the Rwanda Elec­toral Com­mis­sion.

Polling sta­tions in some parts of the cap­i­tal, Ki­gali, had long lines on Fri­day. Kagame made no pub­lic re­marks af­ter vot­ing there.

While Kagame re­mains pop­u­lar for pre­sid­ing over eco­nomic growth, crit­ics ac­cuse him of us­ing the pow­ers of the state to re­move per­ceived op­po­nents.

Rwan­dan au­thor­i­ties, in­clud­ing Kagame, deny crit­ics’ claims that the gov­ern­ment tar­gets dis­si­dents for as­sas­si­na­tion or dis­ap­pear­ances.

On Fri­day, For­eign Min­is­ter Louise Mushiki­wabo on Twit­ter mocked a post by Hu­man Rights Watch Ex­ec­u­tive Direc­tor Ken­neth Roth, who called the gov­ern­ment a “mur­der­ous dic­ta­tor­ship.”

“Ken, Ken, Ken… You’ve come off your med­i­ca­tion again?” she tweeted, sug­gest­ing that he could “get help” at a psy­chi­atric hos­pi­tal in her coun­try.

A con­sti­tu­tional amend­ment af­ter a ref­er­en­dum in 2015 al­lows Kagame to stay in power un­til 2034 if he pur­sues it.

“Even the crit­ics will tell you Kagame is an ex­tra­or­di­nary leader who walks the talk,” Ki­gali res­i­dent Charles Kare­mera said af­ter vot­ing.

“He is the only can­di­date with a vi­sion and he will move the coun­try for­ward,” said Monique Mucyeshi­mana, who’d just cast her vote for Kagame in the Kicukiro dis­trict of the cap­i­tal, Ki­gali. “No one can re­place him right now — we want him to stay.”

In the Ki­gali dis­trict of Gasabo, Jean Herve Habi­mana said he’d voted for Habineza be­cause of “his clear for­eign pol­icy” and vows to make peace with Rwanda’s neigh­bors, close in­for­mal de­ten­tion cen­ters and give quick, fair tri­als to pris­on­ers.

The coun­try has fraught re­la­tions with Bu­rundi, which has been em­broiled in a po­lit­i­cal cri­sis since 2015 and ac­cuses Rwanda of med­dling — al­le­ga­tions the gov­ern­ment de­nies.

The tiny land­locked na­tion’s econ­omy — which re­ceives do­na­tions from coun­tries in­clud­ing the U.S. and U.K. — has ex­panded an av­er­age of more than 7 per­cent a year since Kagame took of­fice in 2000, and is ex­pected to grow 6.1 per­cent this year, ac­cord­ing to the In­ter­na­tional Mon­e­tary Fund. Its big­gest in­dus­tries and sources of for­eign ex­change are tea, cof­fee, tourism and min­ing.

In its elec­tion man­i­festo, the rul­ing Rwan­dan Pa­tri­otic Front pledged to cre­ate jobs, part­ner with pri­vate com­pa­nies to en­cour­age new in­dus­try, build about 2,361 miles of roads and in­crease min­eral ex­plo­ration.

AP/JEROME DE­LAY

Poll work­ers at a sta­tion in Rwanda’s cap­i­tal, Ki­gali, start count­ing votes in Fri­day’s pres­i­den­tial elec­tion.

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