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D-DAY: Candidates cast votes as Rwanda chooses new president

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Kagame defended his candidacy to reporters at the Rugunga polling station in Nyarugenge district (Photo: Margaret Cappa)

Kigali: Some 5.178.492 Rwandans headed to polling stations Monday in the country’s second presidential election since the 1994 Genocide against Tutsis. Incumbent President Paul Kagame was the last to drop his vote into the ballot box at about a few minutes to 11:00 am amid dozens of journalists. The other contenders in the election had voted earlier.

While the incumbent, Kagame, is widely-forecasted to win a landslide victory like that of the 2003 election, he maintained the democratic excellence of the process.

“I think the election has been democratic and we have to look at a number of things. First of all, what will Rwandans think about it?” he said in a scrum after voting today in Kigali.

“When I have seen how they have expressed themselves, the people of Rwanda and all that has been done and said by the people of Rwanda, gives an impression to me that the process has been very democratic.”

Arriving before midday to the Rugunga polling station with his wife Jeanette and son Ivan Cyomoro in tow, the Kagames themselves voted.

 

The incumbent President Kagame arrives to vote with wife Jeannette and son, Cyomoro (Photo: Margaret Cappa)

Across town, another candidate vying for presidency also defended the process.

“This [voting] is a big achievement for my country and myself,” said Dr. Jean Damascene Ntawukuriryayo of the Social Democratic Party (PSD).

“For those people from outside who do not understand what Rwanda is doing they will learn later on when we’ll be so far in development.”

While there are four names on the ballot, much criticism has swirled around the question of whether or not the opposition is in fact credible. All the candidates are either members of parliament or the senate. Arguably, the National Election Commission maintains that no one else submitted applications for candidacy either as a party or an independent.

“Everyone has been asking me whether I’m a stooge [of RPF], I’m a respected man,” said Ntawukuriryayo. “I’m a Rwandan who loves my country and works for my country.”

PSD’s Dr. Jean Damascene Ntawukuriryayo cast his vote from another part of town. Watching on was NEC Executive Secretary, Charles Munyaneza  (Photo: Gaaki Kigambo)

The othercontender, Mukabaramba Alvera of the Party for Prosperity and Concord (PPC) cast her vote at Remera catholic school at around 1030. She told reporters the process was transparent.

“The [NEC] has done a good job. The equipment is modern and sophisticated,” she said.

“In any case, there is transparency, because there are many domestic and foreign observers,” added Mukabaramba. “We will welcome the results”

For Prosper Higiro, the Liberal Party (PL) flag-bearer, who voted at Gashitsi, Remera sector at about 0904, the polls were well organised.

“There has been a large turnout suggesting Rwandans have matured politically,” he said.

“I still stand by my expectation to win. We can only decide otherwise after the results have been pronounced by the [National Electoral Commission].”

Dr. Alvera Mukabaramba of PPC praised the process after she voted here in Kigali (Photo: Alexis Bamage)

Those who are criticizing the democratic function and legitimacy of the candidates are not nation builders, Kagame said at his polling station, so it is up to Rwandans to strive for more achievements.

Kagame also dismissed questions pertaining to the legitimacy of the other presidential candidates.

“Do [critics] want an opposition that I create or an opposition that has emerged naturally, especially when the environment has been created for that to occur,” he said.

In general, Kagame said the country’s election process has been too highly criticized by international media. Some journalists are looking for problems where they don’t exist, he said.

“Part of it is that this is Rwanda, an African country, so they have a certain mindset and views of what will happen here because [they think] Rwanda must be tribal, violent,” said Kagame.

“We don’t want to be treated less than others.”

The polls close at 03:00 p.m. today and the preliminary results may be released as early as tonight. Kagame’s party, the Rwanda Patriotic Front, already has an event planned at Amahoro Stadium in Kigali.

The socio-economic growth of Rwanda will be the priority in the next seven years, Kagame said if he is re-elected. This is a priority because socio-economic growth strengthens democracy.

In the event Kagame does not become Rwanda’s president, he said he has a back-up plan.

“I have so many cows, I will go look after them, I will sit at home, look after my cows and and begin to write books.”

Additional reporting by Leon Nzabandora, Gaaki Kigambo and Alexis Bamage 


 

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