Rwandan opposition fails to get legal representation to take on gov’t

LAWYEERS CAN NOT TAKE ON OUR CASE: Dr. Frank Habineza, President, Rwanda Democratic Green Party

LAWYEERS CAN NOT TAKE ON OUR CASE: Dr. Frank Habineza, President, Rwanda Democratic Green Party

The Rwandan Supreme Court had planned to hear the Green Party’s case against the Rwandan government blocking possible change to the constitution in bid to lift the presidential term limit provision, but the opposition cannot get counsel.

The head of Rwanda’s Democratic Green Party, Frank Habineza has sued the government arguing article 101 of the constitution should not be amended and that the term limits should be left in place to stop the head of state from clinging on to power.

The Green Party, a small but vocal opposition party with no significant following and influence in Rwanda has said the country’s constitution should not be altered to allow President Paul Kagame to run for a third term.

The constitution limits the president to two seven year-terms but there has been growing voices wanting President Kagame to stay on beyond 2017.

To facilitate his stay, the Rwandan parliament must lift the term limit provision out of the constitution.

About 3 million Rwandans have petitioned parliament to debate and lift the term limits from the constitution, and parliament has agreed.

The Green Party’s case might be doomed even before the court hears it, they are having problems finding legal representation.

Habineza told local press Tuesday he has contacted several local advocates, at least three of them, but they have turned him down for fear of taking on the government.

The Supreme Court has scheduled the case Wednesday July 8, and has summoned Habineza and his legal team to appear but the opposition leader says he needs more time to sort out the legal requirements.

“Even our party lawyer has refused to take on the case, just like other lawyers. We are now looking for lawyers from outside Rwanda. We are asking for more time to be granted by the court for us to be prepared legally” Habineza told a local website.

Green Party is the only opposition political party that has come out openly to oppose the amendment of the constitution, majority of opposition parties have publicly supported the possible constitution change.

Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame remains the ruling Rwanda Patriotic Front’s favourite candidate in the 2017 presidential elections.

Rwandans of all walks of life are signing petitions requesting parliament lift term limits and allow Kagame to run for a third term. From religious leaders, cabinet ministers to convicted genocidaires and opposition politicians, Kagame’s movement is broad and unprecedented.

Clerics from 40 different religious groupings based in Kigali, mainly Pentecostal and Muslim organisations have already signed their petitions.

For the last two years, President Kagame has been under pressure (both local and international media) to state whether or not he will run for a third term in 2017 when his second tenure in office lapses.

Kagame has not unequivocally ruled out running, although he has stated he has no influence whatsoever in the groundswell of petitioning for constitutional change.

Analysts say Habineza’s case is a nonstarter given Kagame and the ruling party Rwandan Patriotic Front’s influence but the president himself has urged him to “exercise his constitutional right”