Former guerrilla leader praised for bringing stability and growth after genocide but criticised as authoritarian wins third term
Paul Kagame, the controversial president of Rwanda, has won a landslide victory in the small African states election, securing a third term in office and extending his 17 years in power.
The result will surprise no one, inside or outside Rwanda.
Kagame has won international praise for the stability and economic development he has brought Rwanda since the 1994 genocide, when an estimated 800,000 people were killed, but he has also been accused of running an authoritarian, one-party state. Some have dismissed the polls as a sham.
Fridays election came after a constitutional amendment, which ended a two-term limit for presidents and theoretically permits Kagame to remain in power until 2034. The amendment was approved by 98% of voters.
With four-fifths of votes counted, the 59-year-old former guerrilla leader appeared likely to win with almost 99% of votes cast, the national electoral commissions executive secretary, Charles Munyaneza, told a news conference on Saturday.
The board expects turnout to have topped 90% in the east African country of 12 million people, in an election that fielded only one opposition candidate, Frank Habineza, and an independent.
Habineza, a former journalist who leads the Green Democratic party, said last week the authorities in Rwanda were starting to understand the opposition can play a role in running the country.
We are still treated as if we are enemies but so far in this election no one in our party has been killed or imprisoned or harassed and that means at least some progress, he said before a rally in the small southern town of Rango.
The election board disqualified another would-be opponent, Diane Rwigara, despite her insistence that she met all the requirements to run.
After results were announced, Kagame said he would work to sustain economic growth. Infant mortality and poverty levels have dropped rapidly in Rwanda in recent decades, while literacy rates and other indicators of development have soared. New roads have been built and an ambitious programme of investment launched. Kigali is perhaps the cleanest and most orderly African capital city.
This is another seven years to take care of issues that affect Rwandans and ensure that we become real Rwandans who are [economically] developing, he said in a speech broadcast live on television.
Kagame led rebel forces into Rwanda to end the 1994 genocide and went on to wage further wars in the region. He won the last election in 2010 with 93% of the vote, and said during this campaign that he again expected an outright victory.
Despite some discontent over joblessness and other issues, the president appears authentically popular in Rwanda, which has had some of the fastest economic growth rates in Africa and has become known for its stability in a deeply troubled region.
At a succession of rallies attended by large numbers of supporters from the ruling Rwandan Patriotic Front party, Kagame promised more schools, roads and clinics. Supporters at a rally in Burera in the north of the landlocked country said last week that they could not imagine another leader.
Reuters reported that voters celebrated the election result into the early hours of Saturday.
Last night was fantastic. People kept coming in until my bar had more than 200 people. I usually get 100 on normal days. They were all celebrating and I left at 2am, but they were still dancing and more were coming, said John Habimana, owner of the popular Roasty Bar in Kigali.
Other residents were less happy, the agency said. To me I see this as a one-man race. I simply did not go to vote, said one man in the capital who asked not to be named.