The country’s National Electoral Commission announced that President Paul Kagame of the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) won 98.63% percent of the vote, an outcome that upholds the country’s authoritarian status quo due to a lack of true electoral competition. The electoral commission also claimed that more than 96% of the voting age population turned out to vote. Kagame has been in power for 17 years, during which he has repressed political opponents and silenced dissent.
“Friday’s election was phony. Whenever a leader scoops up almost 100% of the vote, you’re unquestionably dealing with a dictatorial ruler. Kagame prevented his political opponents from competing in a meaningful way,” said Thor Halvorssen, president of HRF. “This fake ‘election’ was no different from the 2003 and 2010 elections in which he ‘won’ with 95% and 93% of the votes, respectively. Back then the worldwide propaganda apparatus that supports Kagame kept insisting that he was remarkably popular and transforming Rwanda. The truth is he is a tyrant with a well-oiled PR machine,” added Halvorssen.
The two opposition candidates running against Kagame were Frank Habineza, the president of the Democratic Green Party of Rwanda and Philippe Mpayimana, who ran as an independent candidate. Habineza was not able to compete on an equal footing with the regime; he stated on the day of the election that “all state structures belong to [Kagame’s] party.” Mpayimana also has stated that the regime and some local residents harassed and intimidated his campaign representatives and supporters as they were collecting signatures for his campaign.
Rwanda’s electoral commission blocked other potential presidential candidates from running in Friday’s election. In May, Diane Rwigara, a vocal critic of the Kagame regime and the RPF, stated that she was going to run against Kagame. The electoral commission banned her from running by claiming that she did not receive the 600 signatures required for her to run as an independent candidate; she submitted more than 1,100 signatures with only 572 determined to be valid. Rwigara was also targeted in a smear campaign that distributed photoshopped, nude pictures of her on social media. Her family’s businesses have been closed and bank accounts have been frozen. Other independent candidates, Gilbert Mwenedeta and Fred Barafinda, were also prevented from running in the election.
In 2015, Kagame’s regime pushed through a constitutional amendment to Article 101 of Rwanda’s constitution that, after the end of his current seven-year term, allows Kagame to stay in power for two additional five-year terms, until 2034. The petition and referendum process for the constitutional amendment was deeply flawed and conducted in the absence of international observers. Opponents of the referendum were not even allowed to hold rallies and public meetings. The referendum eventually passed with 98% of the vote.
“Kagame’s façade elections violate Article 25 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights that calls for ‘genuine periodic elections’ that guarantee the ‘free expression of the will of the electors’,” said Javier El-Hage, HRF’s chief legal officer. “Since the political opposition was not allowed to compete fairly in Friday’s election, the vote was in violation of Rwanda’s international law obligations,” added El-Hage.
The Human Rights Foundation (HRF) is a nonpartisan nonprofit organization that promotes and protects human rights globally, with a focus on closed societies.
Condemn Rwanda’s façade election