Rwanda's ruling party cruises to easy poll win

KIGALI Tue Sep 17, 2013 1:50pm EDT

Rwanda's President Paul Kagame casts his vote during a parliamentary election in the capital Kigali September 16, 2013. REUTERS/Jenny Clover

Rwanda's President Paul Kagame casts his vote during a parliamentary election in the capital Kigali September 16, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Jenny Clover

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KIGALI (Reuters) - Rwanda's ruling party held onto power with a widely-expected landslide victory in parliamentary elections, provisional results showed on Tuesday, reinforcing President Paul Kagame's grip on the country.

The National Electoral Commission said Kagame's Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) had won 76.2 percent of the vote with all ballots counted. Final results are expected on Thursday.

Two decades after the 1994 genocide, the east African country has become a favorite with foreign investors under Kagame's leadership. The order book for Rwanda's debut eurobond in April was 8.5 times the $400 million sought, underscoring steady economic growth.

But Kagame's opponents have accused him of cracking down on political opponents and restricting press freedoms - allegations he dismisses.

The electoral commission said 98.8 percent of registered voters cast their ballot, a figure that jarred with accounts from some who said turnout was low in their constituencies.

"People felt like there was no point voting, the RPF was going to win," said one man from eastern Rwanda, withholding his name, a common occurrence in a country where many feel scared to talk out against the authorities.

Others said that although the result was predictable, the process had been free and fair.

"We can choose whoever we want to vote for," said Claudette, a 30-year-old teacher from Kigali.

Voters cast their ballots on Monday for 53 directly elected seats. A further 27 seats are reserved for women, youths and disabled representatives who will be indirectly by the end of Wednesday. Those candidates are not aligned to specific parties.

Pro-government newspapers have published a number of articles in recent months raising the prospect of Kagame running for a third term in 2017, a move that would require the next assembly to change the constitution to extend term limits.

Kagame, a bush fighter-turned-statesman widely lauded for transforming Rwanda's economy after the genocide, has so far sidestepped questions on the issue.

The Social Democratic Party and Liberal Party, both officially designated opposition parties, polled 13 percent and 9.3 percent respectively, initial results showed. Both the parties have ministers in a unity government, underlining the lack of real opposition.

"The opposition parties do what the RPF tell them to do," said a student from Kigali who did not give his name.

(Writing by Richard Lough; Editing by Andrew Heavens)

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