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Rwanda ready for December 18 vote on Kagame third term




Rwanda’s election commission said Thursday it was ready to hold a referendum next week on a constitutional amendment that could see veteran leader Paul Kagame rule until 2034.

Kagame has run Rwanda since his ethnic Tutsi rebel Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF) army ended a 1994 genocide by extremists from the Hutu majority, in which an estimated 800,000 people were massacred, the vast majority of them Tutsis.

The proposed constitutional amendment would allow Kagame to run for an exceptional third seven-year term in 2017, after which he would also be eligible to run for two further five-year terms under the new rules.

The referendum date was set on Tuesday, just over a week before the vote, but the National Election Commission (NEC) said they had begun to prepare earlier when it was debated and then passed in parliament.

“When the parliament was discussing this issue, it was clear that the referendum will take place, so we prepared this election before,” NEC president Kalisa Mbanda told reporters. “The nine days are really sufficient,” he added.

But the Green Party, the country’s tiny but main opposition, said it had cancelled its campaign against a change to the constitution due to the “short notice given for the referendum to be conducted.”

Rwandans in the country will vote on December 18, with those living abroad voting on December 17. Provisional results will be ready within two days, and the final results within five days, the NEC said.

The question reads, “Do you agree with the constitution of the republic of Rwanda as revised during this year 2015?”, with 6.4 million people registered to vote.

The United States and European Union have warned that the move undermines democratic principles in the central African country, prompting Kagame to criticise “other nations” for interfering in his country’s internal affairs.

The issue of long-serving rulers clinging to power has recently caused turmoil in Africa, where many heads of state have been at the helm for decades.

In neighbouring Burundi, there has been widespread violence and bloodletting after its leader bulldozed through a controversial third term, while street protests led to the ouster of Blaise Compaore, who had ruled the west African country of Burkina Faso for nearly three decades.

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