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Africa

Rwandan constitutional amendment 'not the will of the people'

The Rwandan opposition has suffered a setback in its attempt to foil Paul Kagame's bid to remain president for a third term. The Supreme Court ruled that the constitution may be amended to allow Kagame to run in 2017.

DW has been talking to Frank Habineza, leader of the opposition Democratic Green Party.

DW: Mr Habineza, you were against the third term project and now the Supreme Court has ruled that Kagame can run. How much of a disappointment is this ruling to you and your party?

Frank Habineza: We are not happy about the basic ruling, since we had given the Supreme Court tangible reason for it to rule in our favor, but we have not been beaten. We are still going to continue with the democratic struggle. We are going to appeal to the president, because according to Article 98 of the constitution, the president is the supreme protector of the constitution, so in case the appeal process does not work, we are going to appeal to him that the constitution is not amended. Secondly, we are also exploring other legal procedures to see if we can file an appeal with the African Court of Human and People´s Rights based in Arusha, Tanzania and appraise the International Court of Justice, so our lawyer is working on that to see how we can make the appeal. Number three, we are going to start a campaign, a "No Third Term" campaign for citizens not to vote in favor of the amendment if a referendum is going to be held.

Do you expect an answer from President Kagame now that the Supreme Court has made its ruling?

Frank Habineza

Frank Habineza says he is not giving up

We expect an answer from him because he himself has said before he does not support a change to the constitution. If that is a fact, then we would expect him to respond.

Do you think the Supreme Court ruling was impartial or there was some sort of political influence?

The court gave us the opportunity to present our arguments and we consider that as fair, but regarding the decision, we expected the court to give a reasonable ruling and we are not happy about the reasons given in the judgement.

What are some of these reasons?

They insisted to say it is about respect for the will of the people, but we all know that this project was started by a few ministers and members of parliament and not ordinary people. The whole process was against the law because it was driven by government officials who had no clearance from the government and the government did not do anything to stop them. That was our argument.

Tell us more about your next step concerning the no change campaign. How are you going to do it?

We will make sure that we will rally the people, go to different districts of the country and also run media campaigns so that people are not influenced to vote for changing the constitution.

Are you not afraid that the security agencies will say that you are trying to incite the public to act against their wishes?

If they do not continue with the referendum, we will not do that but if they do continue with the refendum we will go ahead and do that. We will make sure that whatever we do is legally acceptable. If the security forces say that what we will be doing is not legally acceptable, we will be prepared to approach the court.

So in other words you are going to influence the masses to vote for no during the referendum. Is that right?

Yes, yes, exactly, yes.

And what do you make of the petitions by ordinary Rwandans that they sent to the parliament?

First, the petitions were not scientifically verified. There is no confirmation that really 3.7 million were in favor of the change in constitution because no one successfully verified that. We have so many Rwandans inside and outside the country. The three million cannot be a proper representation of the Rwandan population.

Frank Habineza is the leader of the Rwandan opposition Democratic Green Party

Interview: Isaac Mugabi