Rwandans voted overwhelmingly for a change in the nation’s constitution to allow President Paul Kagame to compete for a third term, opening the way for him to join other African leaders who have sought to extend their rule.
More than 98 percent of the 6.28 million people who cast ballots in a referendum on Friday voted for the amendment, Charles Munyaneza, the executive secretary of the National Electoral Commission, said by phone on Saturday from Bujumbura, the capital. There were 6.39 million people eligible to vote, he said.
Rwanda’s current charter limits the president to two seven- year terms. The change would permit Kagame, 58, to seek a third term in elections scheduled for 2017. He has governed the East African country since 2000 after he led a rebel army that ended the 1994 genocide in which 800,000 people were killed. The amendment would also let him stand in two subsequent elections for the future, reduced term limit of five years, potentially retaining the country’s top job until 2034.
Elsewhere on the continent, leaders’ attempts to extend their stays in office have sparked protests. In Burkina Faso, mass demonstrations forced Blaise Compaore to quit last year after almost three decades in power, while Burundian President Pierre Nkurunziza’s disputed re-election in July has spurred worsening violence in which at least 400 people have died, including more than 80 in the past week.
Rwanda is a coffee-producing nation that has been one of the fastest-growing African economies, with an expansion of 7 percent last year expected to rise to 7.5 percent in 2015 and 2016.