Kagame set for landslide in Rwanda presidential vote

Kagame is set for a landslide win in Rwanda`s 2nd poll since 1994 genocide.

Kigali: Rwandans elect a new president on Monday with incumbent Paul Kagame set for a landslide win in the country`s second poll since the 1994 genocide that his rivals have already denounced as a charade.

Kagame, 52, is seeking a second seven-year mandate after his landslide 95 percent victory in 2003 -- a cakewalk as there are no heavyweight challengers.

His supporters credit the former rebel leader with ending the genocide and ushering in stability and growth but critics accuse him of undermining democracy and cracking down on opponents.

Some 5.2 million Rwandans are eligible to cast their ballot. Voting kicks off at 6:00 am (0400 GMT) and closes at 3:00 pm (1300 GMT) and counting starts immediately.

Kagame has been the de facto leader of this central African nation since his rebel group turned political party, the Tutsi-dominated Rwandan Patriotic front (RPF), routed Hutu extremists after the genocide which claimed 800,000 lives.

In this election, Kagame is running against three candidates who all backed him in 2003.

Three new parties, two of which have not been registered by the authorities and all of whom were excluded from the vote, have denounced the election process as a sham and branded Kagame`s challengers as stooge candidates.

But the challengers vigorously deny the charge and say their programmes are similar to those of the RPF only because post-genocide Rwanda needs continuity, not violence between political parties.

Kagame, promising unity and development, mobilised hundreds of thousands of feverish supporters decked out in the party colours at his US-style campaign rallies, with highlights retransmitted on internet.

His government, thanks partly to generous international funding, has turned round the economy of a country with few natural resources, focusing on services and new technology and modernising agriculture.

Critics however say that is just a facade for a repressive and ultra authoritarian regime.

The official campaign went off without any major incidents despite a tense run up.

Human Rights Watch noted over a period of six months "a worrying pattern of intimidation, harassment and other abuses - ranging from killings and arrests to restrictive administrative measures - against opposition parties, journalists, members of civil society and other critics.

There are also signs of growing divisions within Kagame`s RPF, a development he dismisses as perfectly normal.

Bureau Report

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