Rwanda’s longtime President Paul Kagame has won a third term in office with ease in what he had called “a formality”.
He faces another seven years leading the small East African nation praised for its economic performance but criticised for its silencing of opponents.
Electoral authorities said Kagame had won more than 98 per cent of the vote with 80 per cent of ballots counted. He had faced two challengers.
Kagame addressed jubilant supporters at party headquarters and urged Rwandans, including those who hadn’t supported him, to work together.
“This election was criticised so much due to me continuing to be your leader, especially people from outside the country, because they oppose the will of Rwandans,” the president told supporters. “But Rwandans have shown that it was not manipulated by anyone but their own will.”
Kagame has led the country of 12 million people since his rebels helped to end its genocide in 1994 in which more than 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus were massacred by Hutu extremists.
The 59-year-old president has been praised for the country’s economic growth, but human rights groups accuse his government of using state powers to silence any opposition.
A constitutional amendment in 2015 allows Kagame to stay in power until 2034 if he pursues it.
Kagame was running against Frank Habineza of the Democratic Green Party of Rwanda – the only permitted opposition party – and independent candidate and former journalist Philippe Mpayimana. Three potential candidates were disqualified for allegedly failing to fulfil requirements including collecting enough signatures.
With 80 per cent of the votes counted, Mpayimana had received just 0.72 per cent and conceded defeat and congratulated Kagame. Habineza received 0.45 per cent. More than 80 per cent of Rwanda’s 6.9 million registered voters cast their ballots.
In Rwanda, candidates had been barred from putting campaign posters in most public places, including schools and hospitals. The electoral commission vetted campaign messages.