Rwandans vote in referendum as Kagame inches closer to 3rd term decision

President Paul Kagame casting his vote in Kigali, Friday voters are set to overwhelmingly okay the decision to amend the constitution and allow his a third term

President Paul Kagame casting his vote in Kigali, Friday voters are set to overwhelmingly okay the decision to amend the constitution and allow him a third term

Millions of Rwandans today thronged to the polls to vote on whether or not their country’s constitution should be amended to allow President Paul Kagame a third term in office.

The two day voting exercise began Thursday with Rwandans in the diaspora voting at the country’s diplomatic missions around the globe.

President Kagame himself took part in voting at his home polling station in Rugunga, Kigali city this Friday.

After casting his vote, Kagame told local and foreign media that he doesn’t want to be a life president as some critics have claimed.

Kagame instead said that the referendum on the new constitution is the choice of the people of Rwanda and it is up to the citizens to decide what future they want.

“I don’t want. What is happening is the people’s choice. Ask the people why they want it (referendum). Am not holding their future…They have future in their own hands,” the 58 year-old former rebel commander who has effectively been in power since the end of the 1994 genocide said.

President Kagame has indicated he will reach a decision on whether or not he is running for the third term shortly after the results of today’s referendum.

The yes vote is expected to carry the day and many Rwandans and political observers say Kagame will announce in the next few days if not weeks that he is indeed running for president.

The Rwandan legislature has already passed a draft constitution allowing Kagame a third seven year term after which he will be eligible to run for two 5 year-terms. His second term ends in 2017 but if voters approve of the constitution amendment the Rwandan leader could be in power until 2034.

Before, it voted for the constitutional amendment, the Rwandan senate went on a countrywide consultative tour to meet and hear out the voters on the issue. The senate claimed that they were 10 people who oppose changing the constitution and Kagame’s third term.

Kagame’s critics, majority of them opposition in the diaspora, and the West, particularly the United States and the European Union have urged Kagame t stand down in 2017 saying all the ongoing “maneuverings” in Rwandan parliament and the referendum are orchestrated by the president and his ruling RPF purposely to extend his stay in power.

“President Kagame has an opportunity to set an example for a region in which leaders seem too tempted to view themselves as indispensable to their own countries’ trajectories,” US Ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Power told reporters in New York earlier this month adding “We really do expect President Kagame to follow through on the commitments he has made many times in the past to allow the next generation of leaders to come forward.”

Kagame is credited to have ended the 1994 bloodshed in Rwanda and leading Rwanda’s economic recovery that is envy of the region and the world but his critics argue this success has happened at the expense of political freedom and democracy.

“Rwanda has in many ways been a development success story. Politically, however, the country is sliding even deeper toward authoritarianism. This is not what other African nations, or any country that calls itself a democracy, should seek to emulate,” the Washington Post wrote today in its editorial.