Rwanda readies for presidential poll
Voting stations in Rwanda were ready ahead of time for polling to start in Monday’s presidential election set to deliver victory for incumbent Paul Kagame after a campaign opponents called a charade.
The Electoral Commission ferried in material throughout the day and ballot boxes were locked up in a room for the night, with centres guarded by police.
Inside, concrete floors were scrubbed clean and furniture covered in the national colours — green, yellow and blue. Doors were given curtains in the same colours and streets leading to polling stations boasted decorative arches and Electoral Commission banners.
In the capital’s 24-hour shopping mall, Kagame T-shirts were still on sale early evening.
As it carried out final preparations for polling stations to open at 6:00 am (0400 GMT), the commission also declared that campaigning for the second presidential election since the 1994 genocide had been smooth.
“There were no incidents. Everything went off very smoothly,” spokesman Pacifique Nduwimana told AFP.
But the opposition and rights groups have been critical of the tense run up to the vote, which has seen attacks on opposition figures and journalists, and restrictions on media and political freedoms.
Kagame faces three candidates, all of them linked to his all-powerful Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) and who supported him when he won 95 percent of the vote in 2003.
The lanky 52-year-old president wrapped up his campaign with a huge rally in Bumbogo, near the capital Kigali, where he vowed his government would represent the politics of all ethnic groups in the country.
“Rwanda’s new politics are not the politics of the Hutu, the Tutsi or the Twa but the politics of all Rwandans,” Kagame said.
Kagame’s Tutsi-dominated RPF shot to power after ending the 1994 genocide in which Hutu extremists organised the slaughter of some 800,000 people, essentially Tutsis.
After claims that Rwandans may have been coerced into attending mammoth RPF rallies, African Union monitors said they had no evidence of any intimidation during the campaign.
“When you see such large numbers of people at a meeting, you cannot think they have been coerced,” the head of the AU delegation, former Mauritius foreign minister Anil K. Gayan, told journalists.
“But crowds do not necessarily translate into votes,” he said.
Kagame’s challengers have denied they had entered the race for show.
“We didn’t go into the race to keep anyone company,” said Liberal Party candidate Prosper Higiro, the deputy speaker of Rwanda’s upper house.
“In 2003 we weren’t ready. Now we are,” he said on state radio Saturday. The party backed Kagame in the 2003 election.
At a Social Democratic Party (PSD) meeting in Kamonyi, outside Kigali, the ground was littered with RPF flags from an earlier, much larger, rally.
PSD presidential candidate Jean Damascene Ntawukuriryayo said his party, which is also in government, stood for continuity rather than change.
“We see our policies as a continuation of those of the RPF,” Ntawukuriryayo told journalists.
“Paul Kagame has done a lot of things for his country and the PSD has contributed to that,” he continued after throwing himself into an election dance to the sound of a whistle, a vuvuzela and a fuzzy loudspeaker.
“We’ve never been in favour of breaking with current policies because in this country we have suffered enough,” he said, referring to the genocide.
The fourth name on the ballot paper is Alvera Mukabaramba from the Party of Progress and Concord. In 2003 she withdrew and called on her supporters to vote Kagame.
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.
About five million voters have been registered for Monday’s polls.