Rwandan parliament votes for Kagame’s third term, maintains term limit provision in the constitution

President Paul Kagame, the primary beneficiary of the ongoing process to amend Rwanda's constitution

President Paul Kagame, the primary beneficiary of the ongoing process to amend Rwanda’s constitution

The Rwandan parliament on Wednesday approved the amendment of the draft constitution article 101 that paves way for President Paul Kagame to run for the third term in office.

This comes after two weeks when the parliament had reviewed the first draft constitution and sent it back to the special review commission for corrections especially on language use and arrangement of articles, and structure of the constitution.

The parliamentarians voted to change the highly contentious article 73 out of 75 votes, with one withheld and one vote nullified; automatically passing the draft article which will be voted upon by citizens through a referendum.

The commission however, made some changes the new draft article cutting the number of years for each term from seven to five years and allows the head of state to run for re-election once.

This didn’t sit well with some parliamentarians who questioned why the article has been changed in the first place. “This article is the reason why we residents asked for the constitutional amendment. We want to know why these changes were made, yet the citizens were clear on this issue of years, Rwandans want seven years not five” one Kagame supporter/lawmaker told this website.

Another Rwandan also wondered why the constitution in its current form was “touched” if not to remove the term limits, “I don’t understand what the heck is going on, I thought the change was all about getting rid of the term limits, but if the term limit stays, then this who thing is a waste of time” One Anthony Bizimungu said.

Other MPs also were concerned about article 103, which allows for the opportunity to refuse to be president, even if voted, yet in the petitions citizens were very clear that Kagame shouldn’t turn down the offer.

In response to the issue that was raised by two male MPs, Deputy Speaker of Parliament Jeanne d’Arc Uwimanimpaye said the reason behind was to have Rwanda’s constitution move towards regional integration.

“We looked at what other countries have in their constitutions and considered the average of years that were petitioned by citizens. Some wanted seven and more, others five years. That is why we want with the regional aspect- which is good for our integration.” Uwimanimpaye said.

On artcle 103, Uwimanimpaye said that this aspect is considered and the reason why it was not categorically stated, was to avoid the legal gaps that it can cause.

The parliament will today continue with voting for other articles as the first day was dominated by debate over seven articles that ended up being sent back to the commission for correction.

In the meantime, The Green Party, the only opposition party opposed to the imminent change to the constitution and the third term has petitioned the president on the issue.

Frank Habineza, Green Party President, says that Party is also planning to campaign around the country urging Rwandans to vote “No” in the forthcoming constitutional referendum, analysts say this is a lost cause as majority of Rwandans seem to be supportive of amending the constitution and Kagame’s third term.
Critics including the opposition in the diaspora, and the international community, particularly the United States say the whole idea of tampering with the constitution is to serve President Kagame’s political interests of extending his stay in power.

The Rwandan leader, who has repeatedly said he has no control whatsoever on the ongoing process to change the constitution, has also, on several occasions said he will not be around as president post-2017.

Kagame also has in the past lambasted other African leaders who cling on to power by manipulating constitutions, but observers argue he is set to emulate many leaders in Sub-Saharan Africa by holding on to power.

Currently, the Rwandan constitution allows the head of state one seven-year term renewable once.

President Kagame is serving his second term that is due to lapse in 2017.