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Rwandans Re-Elect President Kagame in First Post-Genocide Vote

BY Admin  August 26, 2003 at 4:40 PM EST

On Tuesday, Rwanda’s electoral commission announced incumbent President Paul Kagame’s victory in the first presidential election since 1994. Commission Vice President Cheikh Mussa Fazil said Kagame, an ethnic Tutsi, had won 95 percent of the vote, tallied late Monday after the polls closed.

“The winner is his excellency Paul Kagame,” Fazil said.

Kagame’s main opponent Faustin Twagiramungu, a Hutu, received 3.6 percent of the vote, a Reuters report said. A third candidate, Jean Nepomuscene Nayinzira, received 1.3 percent.

Twagiramungu has refused to accept the election results.

“I do not accept this election. …That’s not democracy,” Twagiramungu said. “They are trying to have a Stalinist style one-party system. Almost 100 percent? That’s not possible.”

Twagiramungu said he would take his concerns to Rwanda’s Supreme Court.

During the presidential campaign, Twagiramungu and election observers from the European Union criticized the election process, citing reports of threats to opponents, intimidation of voters and the arrests of local journalists critical of the president’s party, the Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF).

In one case, Kagame’s government deported a Belgian election monitor after his organization, the International Crisis Group, released a report criticizing the RPF, the New York Times reported.

“The RPF wields almost exclusive military, political and economic control and tolerates no criticism or challenge to its authority,” the report said.

Human rights observers also have raised questions about the election’s credibility.

During the campaign Human Rights Watch condemned Kagame’s party after officials banned the second largest party, the Democratic Republic Movement, known by its French acronym as the MDR. The move forced Twagiramungu, formerly a MDR candidate, to run as an independent.

Amnesty International also accused Kagame’s party of using death threats to intimidate opponents, the BBC reported, and in April the Netherlands withdrew $250,000 in election funding after four men associated with an opposition party disappeared.

Kagame has denied all accusations.

Despite initial concerns, Monday’s vote took place with little upheaval and appeared well-organized, according to observers. About 80 percent of Rwanda’s 3.9 million registered voters visited the polls monitored by nearly 2,000 election observers.

“Our victory should serve as a lesson to the outside world, that Rwanda is on the right path,” Kagame said in his victory speech. “Our victory means that even our opponents should join us in building our country.”

Kagame has served as president since 2000 and vice president since 1994 when his rebel force took control of the country, ending a massive campaign of ethnic killing that took the lives of an estimated 800,000 minority Tutsis and their moderate Hutu sympathizers.

Hutu extremists who led the government during the genocide fled as the RPF took control of more of the country.

Kagame, 46, has since been praised for reducing poverty in the former Belgian colony, boosting Rwanda’s economy and helping bridge the divide between Hutus and Tutsis. Best known for his drive to encourage national over ethnic ties, Kagame has presented himself as a Rwandan in the campaign and not as a Tutsi.