Early results show ruling party sweeping to victory in Rwanda parliament polls

Rwandan President Paul Kagame

Rwanda’s ruling party was set to win three-quarters of directly elected parliamentary seats in this week’s poll though the opposition Greens won seats for the first time, provisional election results showed Tuesday.

Long-time ruler President Paul Kagame’s Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), and its seven smaller allied parties, had 74 percent of the votes after Monday’s election, equating to 40 seats in parliament, a slight drop on five years earlier.

Three other parties supporting the government’s policies shared out most of the other seats.

Final results are not due until 16 September.

Parties were vying for 53 of the country’s 80 directly elected parliamentary seats of which 24 are reserved for women, two for youth and one for the disabled, all chosen by special councils and national committees.

Instead of voting for individual lawmakers, Rwandans vote for a party which then decides the candidates to enter parliament.

The country’s only critical opposition, the Green Party made a political breakthrough, despite the expected dominance of the RPF.

The Greens became the first opposition party to enter parliament, according to the results, winning five percent of the vote and two seats.

“It’s a sign that Rwanda is opening up its political spectrum,” said Green party leader Frank Habineza, a former RPF member who has become a critic of Kagame’s policies.

“We have reached a significant objective in obtaining parliamentary seats,” he added, after the Greens, the only opposition party tolerated in Rwanda, won five percent of the popular vote, the minimum required for parliamentary representation.

“Our say was rarely given consideration because we lacked power. Now we will continue our work in parliament by participating in formulation of laws and policies that are in the spirit of democracy, freedom and development,” Habineza, who was a presidential candidate last year, told AFP.

Habineza had won only 0.45 percent of the vote in last year’s presidential election, which was won by Kagame with 99 percent.

Another opposition aspirant, Diane Rwigara, was blocked from contesting that presidential election before being arrested and charged with treason.

Nearly all of Rwanda’s seven million registered voters took part in Monday’s legislative vote, according to the National Election Commission.

The RPF’s 74 percent represents a slight decline since the last parliamentary poll five years ago when they won 76 percent, but still guarantees the ruling party’s dominance.

Turn out was about 7 million, according to the National Electoral Commission, with some 7.2 total voters registered.

Despite winning widespread praise for the high level of female representation in Rwanda’s parliament, the legislature does not challenge Kagame, preferring to act as a rubber stamp for his initiatives.

Three years ago parliament unanimously approved a plan to hold a constitutional referendum that changed presidential term limits, clearing the way for Kagame to stay in power until 2034.

The outgoing parliament has also approved harsh prison terms for journalists publishing cartoons deemed “embarrassing to government authorities”.

Kagame has been the de-facto leader of Rwanda since 1994 when, as a 36-year-old, his rebel army routed extremist Hutu forces who slaughtered an estimated 800,000 people — mainly minority Tutsis — and seized Kigali.

Kagame is hailed for his role in halting the genocide and turning around Rwanda’s economy but criticised for his iron-fisted rule with rights groups regularly accusing him of ruling through fear and crushing free speech.

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