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Africa

Rwandan opposition chooses candidate for presidential polls

media Frank Habineza speaks during a meeting of the Green Party in Kigali on 17 December 2016. Photo: Stephanie Aglietti/AFP

The head of Rwanda’s opposition Democratic Green Party of Rwanda, Frank Habineza, has been selected as his party’s candidate for the country’s 2017 presidential election. Rwandan President Paul Kagame is widely expected to stand for a third term in the polls - he was elected in 2010 with 93 per cent of the vote. Habineza’s Democratic Green Party of Rwanda acts as the only registered opposition party to Kagame’s government.

“Our party has the capacity to win these elections - we have party structures in all the areas, districts, sectors in Rwanda,” Habineza told RFI from Kigali. “We also have a very good political programme which addresses problems of Rwandans and we have the means - so we believe that we can get more than 51 per cent that the constitution requires,” he added.

Q&A: Frank Habineza

The Democratic Green Party of Rwanda held its congress on Sunday with some 450 people in attendance, according to Habineza. As the flag bearer of a party, rather than an independent candidate, Habineza does not need to collect signatures supporting his candidacy and he says he fulfils all other requirements under Rwandan electoral law.

“The support base we have is now over two million,” said Habineza, “it gives us confidence that we can win this election,” he said, in response to a question about the number of supporters his Democratic Green Party of Rwanda has. Some 11.6 million people live in Rwanda, according to 2015 statistics published by the World Bank.

The Democratic Green Party of Rwanda was unable to compete in the 2010 presidential polls and the party’s vice-president, Andre Kagwa Rwisereka, was murdered in the run-up to the vote.

Habineza said his campaign for the 2017 elections will focus on a number of issues including agriculture, education, foreign affairs, justice and security. He said the manifesto will be published shortly.

His election campaign will be funded “through membership contributions”, he said, adding that there are prominent business people who support his party, although their identity is “confidential” at the moment.

Kagame is lauded for stabilising Rwanda following the 1994 genocide. The country has experienced fast economic growth and his government is considered to be relatively corruption-free.

However, human rights groups frequently report on restrictions to freedom of expression and repression of political opposition. “Free speech is severely restricted in Rwanda. Political opposition and criticism from human rights groups are not tolerated. Independent media are muzzled,” US-based Human Rights Watch said in a November 2016 dispatch.

Rwandans approved changes to the country’s constitution in a 2015 referendum that effectively enables Kagame to stay in power until 2034. Some 98 per cent of voters agreed with allowing Kagame to stand for another seven-year term, according to the National Electoral Commission. The amendments reduced the term length from seven to five years and keep a two-term limit in place, but the change will not take effect until 2024.

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