Rwanda will hold presidential and parliamentary polls on July 15 next year, the election commission said Tuesday, as President Paul Kagame prepares to run for a fourth term in office.
The 66-year-old has ruled over the landlocked African nation with an iron fist for decades and was returned to office — with more than 90 percent of the vote — in elections in 2003, 2010 and 2017.
He also presided over controversial constitutional amendments in 2015 that allowed him to run for more terms and stay in power until 2034.
“Throughout the country, the polling date for the president of the republic and 53 deputies elected from a list proposed by political organisations or for independent candidates is Monday, 15 July 2024,” the National Electoral Commission said on X, formerly Twitter.
Kagame’s only known challenger in the polls is opposition Green Party leader Frank Habineza, who announced his intention to run in May.
Candidates will be allowed to campaign from June 22 until July 12, the election commission said.
Twenty-four women MPs, two youth representatives and a representative for disabled Rwandans will be chosen by electoral colleges and committees on July 16, the commission added.
The Rwandan government in March decided to synchronise the dates for its parliamentary and presidential elections.
A former rebel chief, Kagame became president in April 2000 but has been the country’s de facto leader since the end of the 1994 genocide.
While Rwanda lays claim to being one of the most stable countries in Africa, rights groups accuse Kagame of ruling in a climate of fear, stifling dissent and free speech.
He announced his intention to run for a fourth term in September this year, telling Jeune Afrique, a French-language news magazine, that he was “pleased with the confidence that Rwandans have placed in me.”
“I will always serve them, as long as I can,” he was quoted as saying.
– ‘Another 20 years’ –
The country was ranked 131 out of 180 countries in the 2023 World Press Freedom Index compiled by Reporters Without Borders.
In 2021, “Hotel Rwanda” hero and outspoken Kagame critic Paul Rusesabagina was sentenced to 25 years in jail on terrorism charges.
Rusesabagina was arrested the previous year when a plane he believed was bound for Burundi landed instead in Kigali in what his family called a kidnapping.
Freed from jail in March this year and flown to the United States following a presidential pardon, Rusesabagina released a video message in July, saying that Rwandans were “prisoners in their own country”.
Asked in July 2022 if he would seek re-election, Kagame said he would “consider running for another 20 years.
“Elections are about people choosing,” he told the France 24 news channel in an interview.
Kagame was re-elected head of the ruling Rwandan Patriotic Front party at its national congress in April.
Many of those who opposed Kagame, even within the RPF, have over the years been imprisoned, killed or have fled into exile.
Kagame was just 36 when the RPF forced out Hutu extremists blamed for the genocide in which some 800,000 people, mainly Tutsi but also moderate Hutus, were murdered between April and July 1994.