KIGALI (Reuters) - Rwandan President Paul Kagame danced his way toward a second seven-year term on Tuesday after preliminary results gave the bush war veteran 93 percent of the vote in more than a third of country’s districts.
Kagame urged supporters to await the final tally, but said he did not expect the outcome to change and the apparent margin of his win came as little surprise.
In the last election in 2003, Kagame notched up 95 percent of the vote. A repeat performance was predicted, partly because of the economic growth and stability he has delivered but also because of a crackdown on rivals and critics.
“It’s really a coronation of Mr. Kagame. I don’t think we’d call it a genuine election,” said Muzong Kodi, an Africa analyst at the Chatham House think-tank.
“It’s not the manner in which the polling has been organized. The election results are decided months in advance of the polling by the way the opposition was treated, by the way dissent was clamped down on,” he said.
The preliminary results from the National Electoral Commission, broadcast on a screen at an overnight victory rally in a Kigali stadium, showed that in 11 out of 30 districts Kagame had garnered 1,610,422 out of 1,734,671 votes cast.
Supporters of Kagame, who has been in control since his rebel army swept to power and ended the genocide of 800,000 ethnic Tutsis and moderate Hutus in 1994, hailed their hero as fireworks crowned the victory celebration at the stadium.
Surrounded by his family, Kagame danced rigidly in front of a sea of euphoric, flag-waving supporters gathered at the Amahoro Stadium, where thousands of ethnic Tutsis sought refuge during the genocide.
“That 93 percent was okay but not very good. I wanted 97 or 98 percent,” said Gady Mutanganganati, a 25-year-old Internet technician. “For the next seven years I want him to build more roads and hospitals and give people free education to the end of their studies.”
Kagame has been president of Rwanda since 2000 and cruised to victory at the ballot box in 2003 — the first elections since the 1994 genocide.
Despite being poor in resources, Rwanda is a rising star in Africa for donors and investors and Kagame has been feted as a visionary leader and African icon.
While most of Rwanda’s neighbors and donors are expected to be satisfied with a Kagame victory, some analysts said the most dominant figure in post-genocide Rwanda would likely have to repair his tainted image.
They said Rwanda could expect far more foreign direct investment if it improved its democratic accountability rather than becoming more autocratic.
“You have to wonder about the broader socio-political situation that produces a vote like this,” said a Western diplomat, commenting on the seemingly certain landslide.
Critics will point to events over the last few months. Registration troubles prevented three outspoken parties from fielding candidates. Two party chiefs were arrested on charges including stirring ethnic hatred and genocide ideology.
Other opponents say they have been threatened and intimidated. Two newspapers were suspended in April, a critical journalist was shot in the head in June and a senior member of the Democratic Green Party was found nearly beheaded in July.
Voting was peaceful, with some stations registering 100 percent turnout well before polls were due to close, National Electoral Commission Chairman Chrisilogue Karangwa told Reuters.
In one incident, however, voters were ushered into polling stations hours before voting opened and given instructions.
“The first picture on the ballot paper was Kagame. We were told to take their thumbs and show them where to vote. I know personally because I oversaw 83 people,” said one man, identifying himself as a village chief and ruling party member.
A second man in the same village in Rwanda’s Eastern province told Reuters he had ordered sleeping residents to vote in the early hours of Monday morning: “Wake up, go to vote early, the one you have to vote for, you know him.”
“I think the international community will be happy with the way it went. His next term in office is going to be watched closely to make sure that Rwanda is moving toward genuine democracy,” said Chatham House’s Kodi.
Writing by Richard Lough; Editing by David Clarke