Rwandans To Vote Dec. 18 On 3rd Kagame Term In Constitutional Referendum

Written by Dana Sanchez

Rwandans will vote this month in a constitutional referendum to decide whether President Paul Kagame gets to run for a third term, NewTimes reported.

The current Rwandan constitution limits presidents to two seven-year terms. Kagame’s second term ends in 2017, according to presidential term limits set in Rwanda’s 2003 constitution.

If the referendum passes, the change would allow Kagame to potentially remain in power until 2034, BBC reports. The constitutional amendment would shorten the length of presidential terms in Rwanda from seven to five years and maintain a two-term limit, but those rules will only become effective in 2024.

Kagame meanwhile, could stay in power during a transitional period, then potentially run for another two five-year terms.

The U.S. and European Union warned that the move undermines democratic principles in the Central African country, prompting Kagame last week to criticize “other nations” for interfering in his country’s internal affairs, AFP news agency reported.

Kagame called a referendum to revise the constitution after Rwandan lawmakers say they received petitions from more than 3.7 million Rwandans – about 60 percent of voters – “imploring them to initiate a constitutional amendment process to waive presidential term limits,” NewTimes reported.

The amendment is expected to be approved in the referendum, according to AFP.

The Rwandan cabinet set Dec. 17 as the date on which Rwandans in the diaspora will vote on the revised Constitution. Voters inside the country will go to the polls Dec. 18.

If voters approve, Kagame will be eligible to run for elections in 2017 when his second term ends.

Kagame has been credited with helping Rwanda recover from the 1994 genocide with economic transformation. Supporters say his continued stewardship would lead to further gains.

Any changes to presidential term limits must be approved by voters through a referendum, according to the current constitution.

In the revised constitution, lawmakers maintained presidential term limits and reduced the length of a single term from seven to five years that can be renewed once. These changes, however, will not go into effect for a transitional period of seven years.

During this seven-year transitional period, Kagame or any other candidate will be eligible to seek election for the transitional mandate, as well as subsequent terms of five years each, the pro-government NewTimes reported.

Kagame has run Rwanda since his ethnic Tutsi rebel Rwanda Patriotic Front army ended the 1994 genocide by extremists from the Hutu majority. An estimated 800,000 people were massacred, the vast majority of them Tutsis, AFP reported.

Kagame won elections in 2003 and 2010. Under current law he is due to step aside in 2017.

Supporters say if he runs for a third term, it would be in response to popular demand that he remain in power.

Kagame hasn’t said whether he’ll seek another term.