Rwanda’s parliament was set to open a debate on Monday on amending the constitution to let strongman and President Paul Kagame run for a third term in 2017.
MPs were due to “examine the relevance of the draft of revision of the Constitution of the Republic of Rwanda as amended to date,” said a parliamentary statement.
Mr Kagame has run Rwanda since his rebel army ended the 1994 genocide.
He won elections in 2003 and 2010 and, under the current law, is due to step aside in 2017 at the end of his second consecutive term.
But earlier this year, more than 60 per cent of voters signed a petition calling for constitutional changes to be drafted that would allow Kagame to stand again in 2017, an initiative that has already rubber-stamped by both houses of parliament.
Both houses of parliament are dominated by the ruling Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), Mr Kagame’s former rebel army, and are expected to pass the draft constitutional amendments before putting the changes to a referendum.
The revisions to Article 101 — which limits presidential terms to two — and other parts of the constitution follows three weeks of “popular consultations” by parliamentarians during which MPs travelled the country and found just a dozen voters opposed to the reform.
Mr Kagame’s aides have insisted that any bid for a third term would be in response to “popular demand” that he stay in power.
Mr Kagame is painted by supporters as a guarantor of post-genocide stability and the economic growth that has transformed the country over the past 20 years.
But many observers say the move is orchestrated by a government and leader with an iron grip on a country where freedom of expression is severely curtailed, and merely part of a wider trend of African leaders seeking to stay put.
On Thursday, Rwanda’s Supreme Court dismissed a legal challenge to the constitutional amendment from the Democratic Green Party, the only political group in the country to oppose Mr Kagame’s third term.