Rwandan senators kick off third term tour

Kigali residents demonstrating their support for President Paul Kagame

Kigali residents demonstrating their support for President Paul Kagame.Photo/Daniel S.Ntwari

Third term consultation meetings between the senate members and Rwandans have kicked off in Rwanda with many Rwandans living in Kimironko sector in Gasabo district asking that President Paul Kagame be given a chance to run for office indefinitely.

The consultation exercise follows last week’s overwhelming vote in parliament in favor of amending the constitution to lift term limits and allow President Kagame to stand for another term.

The senators will crisscross the country for the next two weeks listening to the public, private sector and other civil society organizations and community based associations, and collecting their thoughts on the constitutional referendum and Kagame’s third term.

During Monday’s meetings in Kigali, residents voiced their views during a consultative to the senators, and majority of the residents are urging legislators to act quickly amend the constition and facilitate the president’s third term run.

A team led by Senator Tito Rutaremera asked the residents to give views on why they did or didn’t petition parliament to have the constitution amended.

Kimironko residents told lawmakers they signed the petitions and forwarded them to parliament.

More than 3 million Rwandans have petitioned parliament over the looming constitutional amendment and Kagame’s third term run.

Senator Rutaremera also asked the electorate to weigh in on the duration of the presidential term.

Currently the term of office is 7 years long, according to the constitution.

“Now we are clear that you want the constitution to be amended, and we shall submit your views to the parliament for discussion, but what is your view on the number of years for each term?” Rutaremera asked

Most of the residents responded to Rutaremara’s question showcasing what the current government has done for them in terms of development and said that they would prefer having Kagame as president for life.

“We don’t want any term limits. We have seen what President Paul Kagame has done for us and we want continuity of his agenda until he dies or gives up himself” Francis Kwizera, one resident said.

Besides the sense of unity and reconciliation and peace, most of the residents, especially women said Kagame’s leadership is one of a kind, highlighting education, free health care and infrastructure as some of the key issues where they base their argument for petitioning parliament to have a referendum on article 101 of the constitution.

The article currently limits the head of state to two seven year terms and Kagame’s second is due to expire in 2017.

Senator Michel Rugema, one of the lawmakers on the consultative team said, the views of Rwandans will have to be taken into consideration this time round as some articles in the constitution have since 2003, been amended without much involvement of the citizens.

“This time this article is one which can only be changed by your views, and we will not violate your constitutional rights, the choice is yours as citizens” Rugema said

Kagme has always said he will not run for office beyond 2017 but there are indications on the ground the Rwandan leader has changed his mind about standing.

His support and popularity in Rwanda is broad and unprecedented, majority Rwandans have publicly voiced their support for the president, even opposition politicians and parties have declared their support for the president.

Critics however, argue Kagame and the ruling Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) are behind the “massive petitions” in the country.

Last week the Senate approved the constitutional amendment measure 100% and the lower chamber of deputies endorsed it 99%.

Of all the opposition parties in Rwanda, the Democratic Green party is the only one that is against the constitutional amendment and Kagame’s third term candidacy, they have petitioned parliament to block the measure in vain, and they have also filed suit in the Supreme Court and the case is due to be heard July 29.

This small but vocal party has failed to get legal representation in Rwanda to take on the government. They are outsourcing attorneys outside Rwanda.

“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” Frank Habineza, the President of the Green Party was quoted as saying earlier this month.