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Africa

Long lines at the referendum vote in Rwanda

Rwandans voted on a constitutional amendment which most likely will be passed. It would enable President Paul Kagame to serve for another 17 years.

At the technical school in Nyagatovu in the capital city of Kigali, many people are waiting in long lines. They have been lining up since 7 am to vote.

"I hope for a positive result and that the constitutional amendment will pass so that we can vote for Paul Kagame again in 2017," said Angelique Mukasakinbi whose thumb has been colored with blue ink so show that she had voted.

On the ballot she could have voted for "Yes" or "No." On one of her fingernails she still held the mark that she used to vote for Kagame. She thinks that he is the right choice for Rwanda.

"I expect more positive change. He has done so much for us and he could do so much more," she said.

Every indicator points to a landslide win for the "Yes" vote. But the person with the most to gain, President Paul Kagame, has been silent. He is yet to declare whether or not he will be running in 2017. When he voted he was asked when he would make a decision.

He answered simply: “Anytime.”

He has never spoken out about whether he agrees with a constitutional amendment or not. "I do not want to do that. Whatever happens will be the will of the people," he said.

Many Rwandans believe that if Kagame does not run there will be a power vacuum in Rwanda. One criticism of Kagame is that he has apparently given no thought to who should suceed him. When asked about this he responded "Are you applying?"

If the referendum passes it means that Kagame will be able to rule for up to 17 more years or 34 years in total.

Without opposition

Spirits are high in Nyagatovu. The DJ is playing music about achievement, revival and success. "Wenn you are working in tourism, be nice to your clients so that they come back. When you work in a bank, be nice to your customers and be punctual," sang the musicians.

Innocent Bizimuremwi has also just voted and wants Kagame to stay in office. He thinks the current constitution is too old and needs to be updated.

Rwanda Referendum

Most voters were enthusiastic about having Kagame continue as president

"This is an important referendum. This is our one chance to change the constitution and to have an effect on the political leadership," he said.

The current referendum is not being viewed in many quarters as a "free" vote. Those who are against Kagame continuing in office are silent. This is also noticeable at polling stations. No one speaks out against the constitutional amendment. Media interviews are monitored, filmed or just broken up.

The only party that is against the referendum is the Democratic Green Party of Rwanda (DGPR). The party is also the only opposition party in the country and tried unsuccessfully to stop the referendum in court.

Leonard Gasamugi, a member of the DGPR's national executive, is travelling through the city as an election monitor. The party was looking to campaign against the referendum but the date was announced only a week in advance.

“We did not have many options. There was not enough time. We tried to make ourselves heard through the media,” he said.

Even as an election observer, no one will talk with him. He has not witnessed any irregularities but he sees the voters as poorly prepared for the vote.

“Many are showing up at the wrong polling station. Some are coming with their ID card but no voting card or vice versa,” he said.

Not without criticism

The international community has criticized Rwanda for holding the referendum. On the day prior to the vote, ambassadors vented their misgivings.

The European Union as a whole is worried that the time between the announcement of the vote and the referendum was not enough for those who have something against the amendment to say so to the Rwandan people,” said the EU Ambassador Michael Ryan.

His US counterpart, Ambassador Erica Barks-Ruggles, said “the speed left no time for an informational campaign for the voters and it was not planned to distribute the text of the amendment. How are the Rwandan people supposed to know what they are voting for?”

These criticisms do not interest Veneranda Uwitonze who just voted for the constitutional amendment. For him and for most Rwandans, the goal is to keep Kagame in power. He sees Kagame as a president who has helped to rebuild the country and put it on the right economic track.

“We want peace and we want it to continue. And if we get that then we can also achieve economic prosperity,” he said.

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